The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘felony

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

Fifth grade autistic boy charged with felony

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Photo by Carole Reynolds, used in examiner.com

A colleague of mine alerted me to this article that was published last week in examiner.com. It’s an editorial from Robin Hansen for the online magazine’s special education section. She does a fair amount of reporting though, which focuses on a rare felony charge against an Arkansas boy who isn’t even a teenager yet.

Zakhquery Price was charged by two school staff members who were injured while attempting to restrain him following an incident last October. His grandmother argues that the incident was caused by his school failing to accommodate suggestions in his Individual Education Plan (IEP, used to help students who are mentally and/or physically disabled progress in the school system. His hearing is scheduled for January 12th, and a psychologist hired by the school recommends having Zak in a mental hospital.

You can tell the writer doesn’t have a journalistic background as the article is sprinkled with spelling and other grammatical errors. However, writing as more of a columnist, she clearly takes the family’s side, arguing that Zak hasn’t been educated or treated properly (according to the article, his IQ is 68). We also only hear one side of the story from Zak’s grandmother. I’ve alluded to he-said/she-said stories before; it’s almost impossible to know if we’re being told the truth from human sources alone as relatives or friends sometimes defend their own, even if indisputable evidence links the accused person to a crime. However, if Zak’s grandmother is telling the truth about what happened to her grandson and the school he was enrolled in, this would be the latest example of neurotypicals acting oblivious to their environment. From an anecdotal perspective, people on the outside kept autism hidden from view even at the turn of last decade (I’m starting to date myself now). These types of stories often attract more attention in the news than school employees working to improve the lives of kids who would otherwise be cast off as useless. Filing criminal charges against a kid who possibly had no knowledge on appropriately expressing emotional frustration is an indicator that employees at the school would rather not deal with him instead of assisting him, but this is pure speculation. Since his grandmother appears to be the primary caregiver for Zak, one element that many readers are likely wondering is why his parents aren’t quoted. No one can truly say why, but it would be disturbing to find out his parents have abandoned him.

As the GLBT community continues to discover that ignorance and intolerance still exist in their fight for equal rights, this article shows that autism isn’t immune to the ills of social justice either.

Written by TheSportsBrain

January 4, 2010 at 1:03 pm