Monday, November 19, 2012

Autism and Abuse

Ryan came home recently with a bruise on his earlobe. It’s an unusual place for a bruise—at least for an unintentional one. I trust his teacher and therapists implicitly, so I know it was simply some sort of an unusual occurrence that caused it—or maybe another child—but when you have a child who cannot talk, you always have a level of concern for that child that does not compare with the typical worrying you do for a so-called “normal” kid.

I’ve read so many articles lately that detail abuse of autistic children that can only be described as inhumane. I recently read of an autistic child in Broward County, Florida being choked with his restraining harness by his aide, Darryl Blue, during a one-hour ride home from school. The video captured by a surveillance camera is hard to watch. As the child pleads for Mr. Blue to stop choking him, you can hear the bus driver, Chelsi Edwards laughing heartily at his suffering. The incident went on for nearly 45 minutes and left the child’s neck bruised. Both Blue and Edwards are inconceivably collecting paychecks as the incident is “investigated”. You can watch here, if you have the stomach for it:

Mr. Blue has been charged with aggravated assault yet was reassigned to another position. The school bus drivers union is trying to downplay the incident on behalf of Ms. Edwards.  Union representative Linda Lewis said because the child’s face was blurred in the video to protect his identity, she is unsure any abuse occurred. 

“I can’t see it clearly that there’s being any abuse,” Lewis said. The child’s strap “may have been pulled a little too tight or something, I don’t know.”

I also read recently about a teacher named Pranee Andrus in St. Cloud, Florida who grabbed a five year old autistic child by the legs and pulled him across the floor, causing rug burns on the child. The teacher also asked other children in the class to help attack him, asking the students, “Should I hit him?” The child’s “crime” was not sharing a toy. Ms. Andrus has also been accused of abusing other special needs students, taking out sharp scissors and threatening to cut out her student’s tongues if they didn’t behave. 

These types of events are not unique to Florida. In Richmond, Texas, the mother of a non-verbal 9-year old autistic girl was called and informed her daughter had been stuffed into a filing cabinet drawer. The teacher, Julie Gosch, was reported by two of her teaching aides after allegedly pulling out a clump of hair from one of her students. Their report detailed months of abuse. Gosch purportedly called two non-verbal autistic girls "losers," "stupid," "retarded" and "bitch." She would hit and kick them, let them eat food from the bathroom floor, would lift their pants and underwear, exposing the students in front of the class, to see if they had "gone to the bathroom," and steal the students' snacks. She instructed the aides in how to hit the children. Gosch was placed on administrative leave with pay, pending the outcome of an investigation, says a memo from the school district's human resources department.

These are not isolated events. A University of Pennsylvania study of 156 autistic children found 1 in 5 had been physically abused; 1 in 6 had been sexually victimized. The study further found these children were more likely to act out in sexual or abusive ways, attempt suicide or have academic or behavior problems at school as a result of the abuse. 

If you Google “autism” and “abuse” all sorts of stories come up. It’s appalling, and these events seem to be tolerated by school districts and unions. It’s as if special needs kids are deserving of this kind of treatment.

Consider the Judge Rotenburg Center in Massachusetts, a boarding school for special education students. They serve a lot of autistic kids. The center was launched by Matthew Israel who uses “aversive stimuli” to evoke appropriate behavior responses. According to the Community Alliance for the Ethical Treatment of Youth, 

In the early days of his work with aversive stimuli, Israel and his staff used spanking, pinches, muscle squeezes, water sprays, aromatic ammonia, and unpleasant tastes to punish problematic behavior. They still withhold food from some students as an aversive, but shocks are their main treatment. The school began using electric shock in 1989, but the device they first used, called SIBIS, was so weak that many students grew accustomed to it, eroding its effectiveness. So Israel developed the GED, which he registered with the Food and Drug Administration in 1995. When students grew inured to that, Israel brought forth the GED-4, three times as powerful as the original GED. That version is not registered with the FDA, which now says the Rotenberg Center is exempt because it's only using the machines in-house.”1

The school has a link entitled, “Legal basis for JRC’s use of aversives”. Nice…good to know this treatment of special needs children is legal.2
The school was sued by the mother of one of its victims. The child did not respond when asked to take off his jacket, so he was electro-shocked 31 times over a 7 hour period. Although this video was shot 10 years ago, the "school" is still in business and still administering electric shocks as "therapy". Here is a link to a truly disturbing video of what the Rotenburg Center calls "treatment": 

The way a society treats its most vulnerable members says a lot about it. We tolerate abuse of vulnerable children and protect the abusers. We allow a “school” to electro-shock children who may not be fully aware of their behavior. 

It is hard to describe the anxiety I feel for my son’s future when I hear of these horrific things happening to children just like him. Children who have no voice. That anyone could stoop so low as to hurt someone totally vulnerable is appalling; allowing it to continue unabated is even worse. 



  1. This is difficult to comment on because it is true, ongoing and will not improve. The tragedy and horror is that this will not be stopped or evern interfered with by authorities. I am 60+ and know bullying in and out of school will never stop for the same reason.
    For centuries groups of people have supported the idea of a perfect, elite, pure, strong genus of humans. The strong survive and subject the weak to whatever. Our society is as sick and perverted as those before us.
    The increasing depravity of humans convinces me the further we withdraw from God, the worse we get.

  2. Thanks for your comment, but I hope it will improve. We may not be able to count on the goodness of people to change, but perhaps with cameras in classrooms we will see a shift.

    As far as God goes...well, one of the worst abuse scandals occurred in the Catholic Church.

  3. Hi Janet,

    Enjoyed reading your blog. Keep them coming!

    I just watched the 'bus video'. That sickened me. And...the aide has been reassigned to another position not working with kids??? He should not be employed by a school district...he is a danger wherever he is put. What a sick person.

    The bus driver is a whole other story. She should be so ashamed of herself. I pray she is not a mother.

    I do respite care for a family that has a child with autistm. When he gets off the bus in the afternoon, his aide and bus driver are so kind and positive.

    Can you imagine what the other kids that were also on the bus were thinking?

  4. I'm kind of going to that same situation were my child was abused at school The principal Grabbed him by his ankles And took him to her office alone and I don't know what else she did to my son but when I got there he was crying hysterical She locked us all in the room and then we try to get out finally after out about to rip her head off I have a meeting Tuesday I'm kinda scared about going in because I really don't like this person at all who abuse my son with autism I take that back he's a high functioning autism. I kinda don't feel safe for my son to be at that's cool with that principal so I've been trying to call superintendent and everything else that I don't know what to do if it comes down to see you in this cool I will do so

  5. Be strong--and please report this to the superintendent of your school district and the police. We have to be the voice for our children. I'm so sorry this happened to your son. I can't imagine what kind of a person could abuse someone so vulnerable.

  6. This rotenberg place used To actual help autistic people even with the light shocks that stop self injury but ammonia gross that is abuse shut this place down

  7. The videos I've seen are not light shocks, cause severe pain and trauma. There are better ways to treat self-injury which is often a response to gut pain in our kids.

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