The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘crime

Autism and felonies meet up in the panhandle

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After The Autistic Journalist recorded its biggest month in web traffic since the site was launched (over 900. Not a ton, but 300 above the previous mark set in April this year), activity keeps rolling for the month of October. A family is upset at felony charges filed against of their 11-year-old autistic boy in the Florida panhandle, claiming the school he attends used him as an example to avoid cuts for school resource deputies.

The boy, Terrauce Jones, allegedly struck an assistant principal with a binder after becoming upset about allegations of hitting another student. He then went to the prinicpal’s office, attempting to kick her after she tried to calm him down, then threw a soda bottle at her direction a short time later. The family questioned the decision-making, wondering why there was no attempt to restrain Jones by putting him in a room until the family showed up, while the school district contends every effort was exhausted before calling in law enforcement.

Jones’ autism has been controlled through medication and supervision since he was diagnosed at age 2. His family approached the school about home schooling Jones because of difficulties transitioning to middle school, being around more students, and bullying. School officials said he was too smart and accommodations would be made, and his medications were adjusted. Jones’ family said he suffered an outburst this week because he was low on medication.

There are some parallels here to the story I discussed about a North Carolina restaurant, where two sides speak on an issue. What’s different is the school district providing their side of the story while the other side believes the decisions made in the incident could have been chosen more deftly. This story marks the second time a news outlet has reported felony charges against autistic children since I launched the site, and both times, the charges were a result of mental outbursts that quickly turned physical. Such emotional reactions are no surprise in the autism community, but the inability to predict an autistic person’s mental volatility will create a possibility of an outburst. I’m not sure how charging autistic kids with felonies will help, although school districts cannot give autistic students a free pass either. It’s worth noting that the deputy who arrested Jones didn’t know about his autism until after the fact, and he said he would have supervised him until his family arrived had he known in advance.

The catalyst lies with mainstreaming autistic children in educational environments. The strategy is not a poor one, especially if an autistic child has no learning difficulties or superior skills in some cases (thank you Wheel of Fortune :-P). However, side effects follow, including the problems I listed above. Other children generally aren’t aware of autism and its symptoms, and the lack of understanding can contribute to social problems on both sides.

Regarding coverage, there are several ways to handle a crime story. When a mental disability is factored in, the focus generally shifts to a story about a potential lack of understanding without addressing the larger issue of an increasing population of autistic people and those with other mental disabilities. There’s little coverage on the estimated growth of autistic people in the years to come, while news outlets frequently cover the future’s potential problems with a growing overall population. However, felonies charged against autistic children are not established patterns and will stand out in the news because of their rarity. Journalists may want to explore the facet of autistic students in mainstream classrooms and examine how classmates can better understand why others are different and cannot control those factors. Not all children are bullies, and even knowledge may not change behaviors of those looking to make trouble, but there are ways to explain all disabilities to children in ways they can grasp, even if they do not fully understand.


Written by TheSportsBrain

October 1, 2010 at 1:25 pm

“I want my money back!”

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A woman who’s been charged with 12 felony counts of swindling more than $300,000 from an autistic man might hear that phrase from the person she’s accused of stealing from.

Katherine Rosenthal was given power of attorney over the swindling victim because he was autistic. The autistic man’s mother saved money while working at the Federal Reserve Bank as a librarian in order to support the rest of the family after her death. The father granted power of attorney to Rosenthal sometime after she and the autistic man befriended each other at an Eagan apartment. When the man’s father died in 2004, Rosenthal began withdrawing money from the autistic man’s account, along with cashing out 17 savings bonds. An attorney who filed charges against Rosenthal claims she used the money to pay off student loans and purchase a house under her name alone in San Antonio when it was intended to go to the autistic man. Her response? “That’s my money.”

Umm, I’m pretty sure the money belonged to the man and not you. Swindling is a heartless crime as perpetrators often take advantage of someone else’s trust for a cruel purpose. This case is no different. The WCCO story spent a lot of time focusing on the crime itself, not revealing much detail about Rosenthal’s motive or how severe the autistic man suffered from his disability. Knowing those two things would answer some questions and serve as a potential lesson for people dealing with autism about criminals preying on easy targets (the mentally disabled fall here). I’ve discussed lack of awareness, particularly to danger, as a symptom for autistic people. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rosenthal stole from the autistic man as his condition would likely reduce his awareness to the crimes Rosenthal allegedly committed.

The crime itself is a story, an all-too-common one for reporters (TV and newspapers often have several crime beat reporters), but there’s a much deeper story embedded within the charges. Should WCCO pursue the juice inside, the rest of us might learn something and adequately prepare ourselves in case our internal sensors detect a scenario similar to the autistic man’s. We work hard to earn our money. The only shortcuts are game shows and lotteries. I’d never support swindling, but if you have any dastardly plans to do so, target someone who can at least match your intellect. You’ll most likely get busted, but you’d save some face versus stealing from a mentally disabled person.

Written by TheSportsBrain

September 17, 2009 at 12:09 am