There has been a lot of negative things happening to autistics in the news lately, particularly in Ottawa. Details here. Last week I posted about the second incident on my personal Facebook Page. I was outraged, still am.
For those of you unfamiliar with autism I will break it down as to why I am upset:
1) The student had not one but two unfamiliar assistants. Many autistics need predictability and stability to feel safe. Ever feel a bit unsettled when your normal route to the train was detoured and you couldn’t park in your normal area and you suddenly realize that you might not make your train on time? Now magnify that feeling many times over, and possibly remove the ability to express that feeling with words.
2) The situation happened during the chaotic time between classes when halls were full of people going in random directions and the noise level would be high. Many people feel uncomfortable in crowds but then magnify that feeling many times over and add in the unfamiliar assistants who perhaps don’t know how to remind you to perhaps put your earbuds in and turn on your calming music, or to take you to a quiet spot (the office, a bathroom, a quiet classroom) until the halls start to clear.
3) Add in a vice-principal, who despite an IEP (Individualize Education Plan which is a legal document outlining any accommodations or alternate expectations to ensure a student’s success) that it would be impossible to pretend ignorance of (administration are involved in the IEP process and would be aware that any student with assistants would be required to have one), chose to repeatedly threaten the student with detention. Have you ever had anyone yelling at you threatening you with something that you don’t deserve? What was your inclination? Run, punch them in the face? Cry? Something like that, only you didn’t do it. Or maybe you did. My point is that an already overwhelmed autistic individual was facing these stressors. This is not an excuse. It simply is.
Had the assistants been familiar with the student they may have been able to prevent the situation in many ways (such as removal from the noise, indicating that they had it under control, reminding the VP that there was no need for threats etc), had the vice-principal been even slightly sympathetic to the situation, had the extra added stress of the car alarm blasting not happened, had any of these things happened, it’s quite likely that the incident would not have played out like it did. But it did. And for some reason, the school liason decided to press criminal charges. WTF?!
As a friend pointed out it is possible that this was done as part of a diversionary program, and upon completion of a program the charges will be dropped. That it might be a way for the courts to jump this child ahead in a wait list for services. If that is the case that could have some very good outcomes. And I do not know that school board. All I can say is that I have not experienced such things in our school board. (again not to say that this doesn’t happen, merely that I haven’t experienced it) BUT, here is what happened in the U.S. And it’s not good- read here. Further, I had a few comments about how people expected the family to apologize to the vice-principal and that charges were warranted. One commenter actually got quite aggressive after I began deleting comments (it was late and I was tired of arguing at that moment) Although I do feel a meeting between the student and his mother should happen with the vice-principal I do feel it should happen with an autism advocate (such as one from Autism Ontario or Kerry’s Place or another similar organization) and perhaps an autism specialist from the school board (Ours is called the ARTs team -Autism Resource Team and is available for teachers and administration to access for support).
The meeting should be a dissection of what happened and why. And how to prevent it happening again in the future. Healing and learning cannot happen until all who are at fault accept responsibility for their fault. Yes that means the student should reflect on the impulsive reaction to the stressors, but the vice principal also needs to reflect upon the impact of her repeated, loud threats.
At first glance, especially to those unfamiliar with special needs of any kind, the student appears to be the aggressor. On closer inspection of the reported details it becomes quite clear though that he is actually the victim of a series of unfortunate, mostly preventable circumstances. So why then do people wish to punish the victim?
I believe that the answer to that is fear.
Fear of the unknown. Fear of autism. Fear that a student could be stronger than an adult in authority. Fear. Fear. Fear.
My answer to that: Suck it up buttercup. If you don’t know anything about autism then look it up (just please don’t go to Autism Speaks and their fear tactics see why here, please look up a responsible agency such as Autism Ontario or Autistic Self Advocacy Network). Whatever you do, please stop blaming the victim here.
If helping will make you feel more empowered then by all means please help. Help advocate for more supports in our schools. More training for educational staff. More inclusion everywhere.
Just please don’t think that it’s ok to sit back and lay blame and punish a child.