Those are the words that Alex Barton has come to say repeatedly to himself. He screams in the car when his mother drops his sister off at school. He's refusing to eat and unable to sleep in his own room. Alex was recently kicked out of his school, by his classmates--after his teacher took a vote on it. Alex is thought to have Autism (currently being evaluated for Asperger's). He is also just five years old, in kindergarten at Morningside Elementary in Port St. Lucie, Florida.
Remember Kindergarten? That time of our lives when we are supposed to be taught to be good citizens, to learn social skills, to learn how to "get along," and how to obey the school rules. We're also supposed to have fun, play, and make new friends. Kindergarten is supposed to be the foundation upon which our next 12+ years of education will rest upon.
And yet, in Alex's classroom, the lessons being taught by Wendy Portillo appear to be ones of prejudice, intolerance, and outright cruelty. Alex's peers learned from their teacher that if someone is different, and you have a hard time understanding their habits, actions, delays, etc., then you simply dismiss them. Get rid of them. Kick them out. Take a vote, and out the classroom they go.
And, before you do, you might as well tell that person what you think of them. Five year old obscenities like "disgusting" and "annoying." This is brutality, no doubt. Melissa Barton (Alex's mother) reports that Wendy Portillo confirmed that this indeed happened. If that is the case, this teacher is cruel and inhuman, a person who has no business being in the education sector. She is teaching innocent, naive five year olds a lesson of hatred. A lesson that these children will not soon forget. We can only hope that these kindergarteners' parents have enough sense (and compassion) to explain to their children how wrong this is. It's far better to teach their children tolerance, acceptance, and understanding, and it's my wish they realize that.
If these reports have been confirmed, I see no reason why this teacher still has a job. She should have immediately been fired, no questions asked. One can't help but wonder--if this child wasn't autistic, what steps would the district would have taken? Had this been any other child in that classroom, all hell would have broke lose. There would have been protests, and no doubt, due to massive political pressure, this teacher would have received her walking papers STAT.
We've all seen how autism continues to be portrayed on television--as children who are violent, angry, withdrawn, and out of control, who were "kidnapped" or "lost their soul." The parents desperate and depressed, their lives "spiraling out of control." So, when the public hears that this child has autism, and was having "behavioral issues," most say "well, I can understand why you wouldn't want a kid like that in the classroom." They presume to know Alex all because of what they've seen or heard, these biased reports in the media. Society doesn't want to understand (let alone accept) autism or autistics--at any age. They're being constantly fed these ideas about recovery or a cure, not ever about the dignity or acceptance of autistic individuals. The message that those lives are not worthy of our respect or our time is what the public hears.
So again, when an autistic child is kicked out of class, they don't much care how or why it was done. They think nothing of the ramifications, not only on the autistic child, but also of the other children in that classroom. We are living in a culture of un-acceptance. We all must fit into the public's cookie-cutter mold, or we are just not good enough to be an equal member. Our society likes to preach a lot about being diverse, and about supporting those with disabilities. Yet, when it comes down to it, in the real day to day stuff, society would rather look the other way.
When people ask me why I cringe at a celebrity bragging about her "recovered" child or a politician working to "prevent and cure anything along the Autism Spectrum" or a grandmother declaring that "Autism knocked on the wrong door," I don't need to look far for my reasons. The case of Alex Barton clearly shows us that this propaganda reaches far and wide, not only into our homes, but even into our schools and churches. I want the Barton family to know that they have my full support, along with many others. I was grateful to read this, and learn that Alex's mother, Melissa Barton is a very strong woman, who will not let this slide:
“He has many of the symptoms of Aspergers” says his mother. “The teacher knew that he was under evaluation even having a part-time assistant just for Alex, and she decided that the best way to handle him would be through humiliation from his peers. I cannot imagine how he must have felt as his teacher encouraged the other students to bully Alex by telling him he is disgusting and they do not like him among other things. This is abuse and discrimination among other things; I will not soon let this go” says Melissa Barton. “The moment he needed me the most, I was at work. I do not know if he will ever trust teachers again, I do not know if I will ever trust the Port St Lucie School District again. I know it will be a while before I can convince my little boy that learning is fun. I am deeply sorrowed by the pain my child suffered at the hands of his Port St Lucie school teacher.”
Mrs.. Barton went on to say, “This is a sad day for parents of disabled children across the
. I am now seeking the help of a physiatrist for my son as he refuses to eat, sleep in his own room and other problems that arrived directly after the abuse." USA
Make your voice heard, tell the Port St. Lucie school district that this type of discrimination and hatred will not be tolerated.
Morningside Elementary School Principal:
Mrs. Marcia Cully
St. Lucie County Schools Superintendent:
Michael J. Lannon
4204 Okeechobee Road
Ft. Pierce, FL 34947-5414
St. Lucie County School Board Chair:
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is asking all those who write to express their outrage to cc: firstname.lastname@example.org so that ASAN can keep track of the strength and sources of the response. They also advise us to be mindful that abusive messages hurt our cause--please be respectful in your comments.
A special thanks to Bev at Asperger Square 8 for bringing this to my attention.
Others who have blogged on this:
Whose Planet Is It Anyway?
Whitterer on Autism
The Joy of Autism
Action For Autism
Along the Spectrum