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.

5/24/08

"I'm Not Special"

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 USA. 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."


Make your voice heard, tell the Port St. Lucie school district that this type of discrimination and hatred will not be tolerated.

CONTACT INFO:

Morningside Elementary School Principal:
Mrs. Marcia Cully

cullym@stlucie.k12.fl.us
(772) 337-6730

St. Lucie County Schools Superintendent:
Michael J. Lannon
4204 Okeechobee Road
Ft. Pierce, FL 34947-5414
Phone: 772/429-3925
FAX: 772/429-3916
lannonm@stlucie.k12.fl.us

St. Lucie County School Board Chair:
Carol Hilson
772-519-0397
hilsonc@stlucie.k12.fl.us

Vice Chair:
Judith Miller
772-528-4545
millerj@stlucie.k12.fl.us


The Autistic Self Advocacy Network is asking all those who write to express their outrage to cc: info@autisticadvocacy.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:

ballastexistenz
Whose Planet Is It Anyway?
Whitterer on Autism
Maternal Instincts
The Joy of Autism
LeftBrain/RightBrain
Action For Autism
Along the Spectrum

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

As a kindergarten teacher, a teaching veteran of 30 years, and someone who is in the process of getting certified in RDI, as well as researching a variety of protocols for support of families - I am thoroughly appalled at this story. I am not certain how this could have possibly happened without school board or state intervention. Where is the Special education team in all of this? There are inclusion laws and rights to be tapped into. Is kindergarten schooling mandatory in the state? Is the school district willing to provide out of district placement for this child who has the right to a free and equitable education? It would be interesting to see if this blog approach works to activate change in this situation. mh

beingammey said...

I had already posted this on my blog yesterday but your contact info was better than mine. I updated my post with it, so thank you.

mike stanton said...

Christschool has done a masterful job of compiling draft letters of complaint to the authorities and the media over at Thinking in Metaphors. Anyone who wants to use them please let Christschool know and also forward copies to ASAN who are trying to coordinate responses.

Angela said...

Great post... I hope St. Lucie is used as an example to others out there.

Paula said...

Just adding my support to the Barton family. As a mother of a beautiful 4 year old with autism, I am outraged by Ms. Portillo's treatment of Alex. When every small step forward in communicating, relating to others, self-control, etc. is such a celebrated victory, the damage done by this educator is unforgivable. HUGS to Alex, Melissa and their family. Tell Alex for me that his teacher is the disgusting one and that SHE needs to be sent to the principal's office!!

Marla said...

Thank you for sharing this. This is so sad and makes me quite angry. And yet seeing everything M went through in school it does not surprise me too much. There are some great teachers out there but there are also many that just don't get it.

sapphoq said...

I am horrified and appalled.

I wouldn't let that teacher near my dog, never mind another child.

This is a five year old boy who is on his way to an official diagnosis along the broad autistic spectrum.

Surely the adult in the situation had other options.

spike q. furious

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
iCan said...

Would you please get rid of the last appalling comment? It's not opinion, it's a lame attempt at baiting.

That being said...

Thank you for including links to the school district, etc. Our family has friends in the area who are actively filing complaints. This teacher should not be allowed to teach her brand of intolerance and hate anywhere.

Eric said...

This child needs special attention for his disability- he should not be in a class room with children of a normal performing level. After reviewing the interview from "The Early Show" http://www.breitbart.tv/html/103693.html
the child looks extremely disruptive and probably is a distraction in class. Placing those with disruptive disabilities in normal classrooms detracts from everyone else's education and occupies too much of the teachers time. The classroom is better off without him.

Josef said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
S.L. said...

Thank you everyone for your comments! This surely is a HOT topic. Hopefully, this will open up a further discussion on:
a. our education system
b. special education, mainstream, and inclusion--what more needs to be done?
c. tolerance and social acceptance
And many more topics! I know I've seen an ugly side of society (those that have suggested this child needs a good spanking, or blame his parents, or feel "a kid like that" has no business being in the classroom, etc.). I've become keenly aware on how much of the public (some secretly, I suppose) would prefer we keep our kids away from the world. Shame on them!

anon (#1): You bring up some great questions, and hopefully more information about what exactly went wrong & where in this case. I know just from speaking to friends (some parents, some teachers) in other states, the services and standards vary greatly. That is a major problem.

beingammey: I've been thrilled to see how much of the blogging community has come together to write on this--and it sounds, at least for now, to have made a difference.

mike:
Thanks you SO much for the info, and for the links. I hope EVERYONE reaches out (& continues to do so--this case is far from over!!).

angela:
Me too! I hate that this family & especially this little boy has had to go through this. But hopefully this will open some major discussions, make change, and tell our schools to get with the program.

paula:
You are right on! :)

marla:
I know, it seems like a constant struggle, to get the right services or placement, and then hope we get good teachers. Of course, all of that as we deal with the day to day stuff!

spike:
It's unreal that this is what a teacher thought was a good idea. To put any child in that position--to be voted out like they were on Survivor. Inexcusable.

anon #2:
Your comment was deleted because it was thoroughly offensive. I like to have debates and share ideas here, but such hatred and discrimination toward children will not be tolerated.

ican:
Done! Your welcome, I'm glad to see so many, from all over the world, getting involved in this.

eric:
I'll be blogging on your comment, and similar messages I've seen from others, because the reply will be lengthy.

josef:
I have had to delete your comment, because I do not want to sidetrack this blog by bringing in politics, except for if/when politicians bring up autism. I appreciate your understanding.

I will be adding a new disclaimer regarding the comments to this blog on the main page shortly. Thanks again everyone!

Josef said...

Not a problem. I'm just angry and I hope people who read my comment understood very clearly that I want justice for that boy and his family whom just so happen to be American citizens.

I'm happy to see the comments policed and keep the right-wing ranting and raving throughout my system right now out.

Anonymous said...

The actions of this so-called teacher are reprehensible. She not only set this poor young man back, but she also let the other 16 students in her classroom think that bullying is acceptable.

As a parent of a child on the Autism Spectrum Disorder and a teacher, I can not understand what possessed theses actions.

And quite honestly, the celebrity mentioned in the original blog about her son being cured, should shut her mouth or get behind the rest of us fighting for our children (sorry...had to say it).

Hopefully, the support being generated gives this family some small piece of comfort and opens these eyes of many others.

S.L. said...

Josef: Thanks. I appreciate your understanding--and your comments.

Anon (just above): I agree completely, and I love what you have to say about that celeb mom. :) And, I do sincerely hope that Alex and his family felt our support.

Anonymous said...

This Story is Terrible! My little girl just turned 4 today! She was just evaluted by the school and they say she has mild autism, if you know the Spectrum scale shes a 35, meaning that 0-30 is completly normal, 31-17 Is Mild, and 38-to 60 is severe. The only thing my daugher really doesnt do is communicate well, she doesnt really speak very much, she says three word phrases shes is acutally getting better now, they are putting her in a program and giving her 300 minutes of speech therapy a week, Shes a very very bright child and normally on the good days she will try and tell us what she wants or she will drag us to it, her hearing is very sensitve she puts her hands over her ears, and throws a comptely different kind of tantrum, but she does not speak well at all, Reading this story makes me worry about putting her in school, I would really like to talk to some other mothers who have children on the autism spectrum.

Tim said...

Good Job! :)

generalpervaizmusharraf said...

The chap is absolutely just, and there is no question.