Dear Governor Crist . . .
Charlie.Crist@myflorida.com, – the Governor of Florida
Jeff.Kottkamp@myflorida.com, – the Lt. Governor of Florida
MillerJ@stlucie.k12.fl.us, – Vice chair of the school board
HilsonC@stlucie.k12.fl.us, – St. Lucie County School Board Chair
firstname.lastname@example.org, – St. Lucie County Schools Superintendent
email@example.com – Morningside Elementary Principal
Date: Tue, May 27, 2008 at 2:55 PM
Subject: Disgust about education system
Dear Mr, Crist, Mr. Kottkamp, Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Hilson, Mr. Lannon and Mrs. Cully,
I am writing to you all today regarding the situation that occurred at Morningside Elementary school recently. As I understand it, Alex Burton is a 5 year old who has just recently been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I am unsure as to whether or not he was diagnosed at the time of the incident, but I do know that he was in the process of being testing. I also know that his teacher knew about this testing.
So it dumbfounds me to think that she would have done the things that she did. Just for clarity’s sake for all involved, I will list the events of concern. These seem to be the undisputed facts:
1. Mrs. Portillo called Alex in front of the room and then required each student to go around and say what they did not like about him.
2. She then required them to take a vote on whether or not he should be kicked out of the classroom.
3. After a vote of 14-2 against him, she made him leave.
4. He spent the rest of the day in the nurse’s office.
5. His mother was not contacted.
Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), as you may know, is a pervasive developmental disorder. Pervasive, as per definition, means “to become spread throughout all parts of.” This means that this syndrome doesn’t just affect one part of an individual’s life, but every aspect in varying degrees. One of the characteristics of AS is a marked delay/deficit in social maturity or interaction. What this means for people with AS is that the social standards and requirements that most people just “pick up on,” are not at all apparent to the child or adult with AS. They can be taught these rules of interaction, but it truly never becomes a natural flawless practice.
It is ludicrous to assume that a child of 5, who is on the spectrum, will exhibit mature or typical social qualities. Many people with AS don’t exhibit entirely correct behaviors at 25, let alone 5.
In addition, there are many accompanying disorders often present with AS. Many people with AS are oversensitive to external sensory stimuli such as certain sounds or lights. Many people on the spectrum have hyperacusis– a type of of auditory processing disorder that makes certain background sounds seem much louder than they are, drowning out whatever is going on directly next to them. Some people on the spectrum cannot be around florescent lights very long, because the flickering of the lights makes the world appear to them in a strobe-like form. In addition, many people on the spectrum have Sensory Processing Disorder. One of the main characteristics of this disorder is a lack of awareness about where your body is in space.
Any of these accompanying diagnoses can cause poor behavior in people with AS. In addition, there are at least a dozen other conditions that I didn’t even mention. One of these diagnoses or a combination of any of them can make it hard to focus in social situations.
As a rule, people on the spectrum have many bad school experiences. Many sources approximate that 99% or more of children on the spectrum are bullied, and some of those are bullied to an extreme. However, many people on the spectrum are bullied not only by their peers, but also by their parents, teachers and various administrations. The rate of suicide is significantly higher on the autistic spectrum.
People on the spectrum are taught from a young age by many around them that no one cares about what happens to them. When they are in trouble, they are less likely to reach out for help from others. Is it any wonder? Throughout their lives, they are painfully aware that they are not like the other children and people around them. They try to reach out to others only to have those attempts snubbed and ridiculed. Their peers go out of their way to isolate them through teasing, lies and victimization. Many are told constantly throughout their lives that they are hopeless human beings, that they are worthless. They are told that they are freaks of society and weirdos; that they don’t deserve to draw breath on this earth. They are given death threats and treated with general unchecked cruelty.
What Wendy Portillo did is no different than what many of my teachers did to me and others like me on the spectrum. The difference is that now we are adults and we can cry out against this injustice. We’ve already suffered enough at the hands of the educational system. You can’t change the past, but your actions can impact the lives of future children. Help show that the educational system is inclusive and just.
If we were to use the Golden Rule on this situation, then shouldn’t Mrs. Portillo be required to stand in front of her peers as they berate her? In a work environment, that sort of thing would never float. Therefore, I don’t understand why someone was allowed to get away with doing that to an emotionally sensitive little boy.
I might mention that on my blog, I’ve been collecting a list of bloggers who have written in outrage on this topic. As of this afternoon, that list was at 63 total. Yesterday that number was half of that. Many of these bloggers are on the spectrum themselves. To see the post in question, click here.
Also, there has been a petition started. I didn’t start it, I just thought you should know about it. http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/Fire-teacher-for-unprofessional-conduct. In two days, this petition has garnered over 300 signatures. I wonder where it will be in a week?
They say that people with autism lack empathy. I beg to differ. I say that it is the neurotypicals who lack empathy. Empathy is not defined as feeling the same as another. That’s actually codependency. Rather, empathy is the ability to hear what another is saying and to tell them that you heard.
So far, no one has heard us. Or if they have, they haven’t told us. Please listen. We stick together because no one will stand up for us. Maybe Florida can change that tradition.
First Name “lastcrazyhorn” Last Name, BME
(Music Therapy grad student at Texas Woman’s University)
P.S. I leave you with the poem by Martin Neimoeller:
First they came for the Communists,
but I was not a Communist so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Socialists and the Trade Unionists,
but I was neither, so I did not speak out.
Then they came for the Jews,
but I was not a Jew so I did not speak out.
And when they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out for me.
As for those of you reading, I have a few other links to point you towards. This story has finally started to spread. It reminds me of a tiny snowball at the top of the hill slowly rolling down. Hopefully it will continue to gain momentum.
- Mom says special needs child ‘voted’ out of classroom – this is a West Palm Beach, FL local NBC site
- Alex Barton And The New Wave Of Autism Activism – this is a news blogs video community. They definitely reach a wider audience than I could ever hope to.
- Alex Barton Thrown Out of Class by 5-Year-Old Peers – posted by the Ground Report (more than blog, less than CNN)
- An article by the Sun-Sentinel
- CBS News Early Show – Kindergartener Voted Out By Students
- Input from the coordinator of the Tallahassee Autism Support Coalition and ASAN
- CNN’s coverage of it
- Alex’s Wikipedia page
- Fox’s story on it (as a rule, I don’t trust or promote Fox, but they seem to have done an okay job this time)
- Chicago Tribune (this lady’s not letting any crappy comments get through either)
- USA Today
I just found out that someone (presumably the family) has set up an email contact addy in order that people might send Alex messages directly. Here it is.
~ by lastcrazyhorn on May 27, 2008.
Posted in abuse, alex barton, aspies, autism, Autistic Spectrum Particulars, bigotry, blogs, bullying, children, children with disabilities, communication, concentration, disabilities, discrimination, distress, education, Excessive fury, philosophy, poetry, really pissed off, stress, Writing
Tags: alex burton reaction, autism advocacy, Cully principal, governor crist, Hilson, Lannon, lt. governor kottkamp, outrage, protest letter, support for Alex Burton, vice chair Miller, wendy portillo