Having an autistic child is not the end of the world--far from it. It is my hope that through this blog, at least a handful of people will get to understand that. My child is amazing, she brings us tremendous joy. We have good days & bad days, but we CHOOSE to focus on the good. Our belief is that by loving our daughter, giving her the most comfortable environment we can, and by most of all accepting her differences, she will continue to blossom--in her OWN way.

2/5/08

Gunnar Moody, Handcuffed At School...

We've all been bouncing illness between the family here, so I've been out of commission.  But, this came across my email & I had to get on and write.  My head is not quite clear, thanks in part to fever & medication, so I've included the original link to the story, as well as two other websites who have written on it (I no doubt much better than I!).


Gunnar Moody, 11, was handcuffed because, apparently, he was singing in gym class.  Gunnar is autistic, not that this should matter too much in this situation.  He is an 11 year old boy, in his gym class, singing a song, doing push-ups.  Now, granted, it's been a couple of years since I was in a physical education class, but I seem to remember it taking place in a gymnasium.  I also have some memory of those gymnasiums being rather loud, with bright lights, and noise reverberating in every direction.  I remember the smells and sounds.  The screech of shoes on the gym floor, the buzzing of the big, fluorescent bulbs above, and, yes, children making lots of noise.  Gym class, much like recess, is a time for children to move, let out their extra energy, and have fun.  It is the time you are able to let loose a bit, and certainly time to chat.  Heck, even time to sing.  Most days, our gym teachers would even play music for us during class.  

Well, perhaps I grew up in another time?  Maybe it was because I grew up on the other coast?  I have thought this over, and I cannot come up with any good reason why cops would be called in here, and certainly cannot fathom why handcuffs were used.  I can't help but feel with 100% conviction he was treated like this because he was in fact autistic, and no other reason.  So, it does matter, that Gunnar is autistic.  But, it shouldn't.  He should just be any other 11 year old, trying to pass the time as he does his sit-ups, by singing.  And no child, in this situation and all the facts as they've been presented to me, should be handcuffed for this.

Back to the autism factor.  Let's think back to my memories of gym class.  The noises, the smells, the physical action, the lights, it all comes together and anyone with experience with autism or sensory issues can easily see that gym class could be problematic.  The psychologists and other professionals I have spoken to have said that quite often recess, lunch, and gym class can be the more difficult time of day for autistic students.  This, I imagine, is common knowledge.  It doesn't seem like a hard idea to grasp.  Those three periods in the day are where social demands increase, as do the sensory assaults (the odors in the cafeteria, sights and sounds of the outdoor playground, and again the gym).  

This child had a behavior plan.  This behavior plan stated what steps the school staff should take in an event like this.  An event where Gunnar perhaps was having difficulty transitioning or stopping a behavior.  This behavior plan does not include the use of physical force.  Therefore, the school did not follow the plan set forth just for this situation, a plan agreed to by the school and Gunnar's parents.  This is frightening for any parent who has spent hours upon hours (and possibly many dollars for an advocate, etc.) researching and advocating, working with the school district, and then finally compromising on an agreeable IEP and behavior plan.  We sit in those meetings, hours on end often, and each member there signs the papers.  With handshakes and signatures, we all assume that we have sealed a deal.  That what we have written is THE final word on how our child will be treated during the time they are at school.  

This is another prime example of an autistic person not being afforded the same rights as any other individual.  Shame on the San Jose Unified School District.  They obviously are in need of an overhaul on their policy, how they observe IEP's and behavior plans, and certainly, how they handle situations like this, especially with autistic children.  This child says he does not want to return to school.  I feel for this family.  I think of my daughter, and her future.  It is stories like these that again tell me, we need to keep fighting.  Until society accepts our children, and works with us, autistic children will continue to be abused, continue to be handcuffed, and continue to be discriminated against.

4 comments:

Patrick said...

I agree, vehemently even.

What first comes to mind is breach of contract. Though it is probably not actionable. And the mental pain and suffering damages wrought on the boy by treatment more appropriate for use with criminal suspects. I feel very sad when I think how we are brought to a point of having to threaten suit, as we should not have to.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments. While the school should have followed his behavior plan, there may be unknown factors about this situation or student that were not revealed. You never know the whole story so it is never advisable to rush to judgment.

So many details are not listed in the story--the context of the situation. I've worked with so many autistic students and there are countless variables inherent in their personalities, as there are with all of us. I stand on the fact that the behavior plan being followed is essential for success in the classroom. There is a problem in most schools where teachers are overwhelmed and not equipped to help students like this due to bureaucratic pressures to put kids in mainstream classes that are not quite ready to be there yet.

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