Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Of Treadmills and Autism—the Case of Jeremiah Kahiapo


Survey Monkey CEO, Dave Goldberg, only 47 years old, just died after an accident on a treadmill at a Four Seasons resort.  It appears he slipped and hit his head on the machine causing severe, and ultimately fatal head injuries. He was found hours later, still alive, by his brother but he later died at the hospital. The hotel tried to deny the accident happened in their gym or that Mr. Goldberg was even a guest there.

Apparently treadmills can be dangerous and I suspect a lawsuit will follow resulting in an eight-figure judgment against the Four Seasons. This despite the likelihood his death was simply the result of an unfortunate accident; Mr. Goldberg was voluntarily on the treadmill, had chosen his running speed and duration of his workout.

What does this have to do with autism? Recently here in Hawaii the Kahiapo family won a $30,000 judgment against the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE)—and yes, it involved a treadmill. Incredibly, Kailua High School personnel decided Jeremiah Kahiapo would be regularly required to exercise to combat his “self-stimulating behaviors”, according to the written testimony of the Attorney General.

Jeremiah has autism, but rather than constructive approaches to deal with undesired behaviors, someone determined this young man should be left unattended, strapped to a treadmill and forced to run three 8-minute miles—twice in the same day. He was also forced to “pull a weighted suitcase across campus, dressed in a heavy coat, latex gloves and a backpack full of weights.” Staff at Kailua High School said this was for “therapeutic reasons”.

This is Hawaii, it is generally warm, and this young man was not an athlete-in-training. In fact, in addition to autism, Jeremiah suffers from hydrocephalus and spina bifida. When his mother came to pick him up from school, she found him unconscious being dragged by his teacher and other school staff members. When he collapsed on the treadmill, the school nurse was not even called.

Jeremiah’s mother had school personnel call an ambulance and Jeremiah was taken to the nearest hospital where it was determined he had collapsed because of hypoglycemia, which can be caused by intense exercise and exhaustion. He had to have a shunt put in his head.

If this seems cruel, inhumane, perhaps depraved and just plain stupid, don’t worry. Kailua High School investigated itself and found it had done nothing wrong. When contacted by Civil Beat (a local news service started by Oahu resident and eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar) the DOE’s Communications Director declined to specifically comment on this case, but did say each Individualized Education Program designed for a student with disabilities determines what services are most appropriate.

Apparently unattended, forced rigorous exercise up to the point of collapse is “most appropriate” because no one was arrested, or even so much as lost their job after torturing a special needs student incapable of defending himself.

I think a settlement of $30,000 is ridiculously low. Jeremiah could have suffered permanent injuries, or could have even died after these cruel incidents. After some articles, the comments generally expressed horror and sadness, but some stated concern that the taxpayers of Hawaii would have to pick up the tab.

I share that concern—not because I begrudge the Kahiapo family a penny of the settlement, which I believe should have been significantly higher. The pain and suffering this family has gone through is incalculable.

But why does the DOE protect the teachers and staff who put this student’s life and health in jeopardy? Why are these individuals not held accountable? If these “educators” are going to stay employed by our schools being paid by our taxpayer dollars and incredibly have further contact with special needs students, why are they not paying the judgment?

In fact, why aren’t they in prison?


  1. is a horrible story this kid deserves justice. I bet if he was in a wheel chair or had downs syndrome the disabled rights people would have a field day . No body cares about severe autism just smilling kids at the special olympics. The parents deserve 3 million from a lawsuit against the school.

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