Fear of Autism

While there is a growing correlation between issues arising with students in schools and the immediate resort to the criminal justice system as a solution, there are situations which just make one wonder who is more disabled?  From Fox in Atlanta comes this story of Shane Finn, a 14 year old autistic student with an IQ of 75 at Ridgeview Charter School and not a particularly good artist.

Shane Finn’s mother said he was in a special needs class when he drew a picture of two stick figures, and one had a gun.

The eighth grade boy’s picture depicted a stick figure with a gun that was labeled “me.” The figure was shooting another figure that had his teacher’s name above it.

The picture led to Finn being suspended, and he is now facing criminal charges.

“They’ve pressed felony charges for terroristic threats,” said the teen’s mother, Karen Finn. “It’s that sweeping zero tolerance and I think it’s ridiculous.”

There is certainly good reason to have a talk with the student about why this isn’t a good thing to do, what he meant by it (if anything), and how it makes his teacher feel.  But all of this needs to come within the context of his comprehension. 

Finn said her son drew the picture on the page of a school assignment where his teacher would easily see it. Finn says her son doesn’t really understand why he’s in trouble. Finn said her son is autistic and has the mental capacity of a third grader.

Even if the teacher’s peculiar sensibilities are offended, and assuming the charter school, like so many others, has the dreaded “zero tolerance” policy that compels it to act in monumentally foolish ways toward conduct that reasonableness suggests would be better dealt with by the exercise of thoughtfulness, what kind of prosecutor would charge a kid like this?

One can only assume that eventually, someone will decide that this young man, whose limitations already present enough of a challenge in life, really isn’t a threat of any sort, no less a terrorist one. 

As long as this absurd story is on the table, however, it’s worth considering a different angle.  Why is this a “terrorist” threat?  The use of the word “terror” as almost Pavlovian, conjuring up the image of the twin towers collapsing and compelling otherwise reasonable people to blindly forego basic liberties to protect themselves from Jihad.  Will Shane Finn be described as a “homegrown terrorist” perhaps, or will there be allegations of his having been trained in drawing by the Taliban?

The word “terrorist” has become one of the most abused words in the criminal justice system, and its Orwellian impact is no doubt intentional.  If nothing else, the absurdity of this case offers an opportunity to recognize just how crazy this has all become, and how it is used to manipulate public perception.  I would like to suggest that this is about as bad as it gets, but somehow we all know that there will be a worse example down the road.  There always is.

H/T Turley

13 thoughts on “Fear of Autism

  1. Jeff Gamso

    You have far more faith than I if you “can only assume” that someone [in authority, I assume you mean] will sooner or later realize the wrong-headedness and absurdity of imagining that the drawing could be a terrorist threat. I have even less faith that anyone will abandon action based on that fantasy.

  2. Jennifer

    Calling the police and getting felony charges is actually a very crafty move by the school. Now Ridgeview Charter School can expel the kid; they’ll save a ton of money by having one less special ed student, and their test scores will go up.

    The child will still be educated; when he’s found to be incompetent to stand trial, another state agency will be given the task of making him competent – by educating him and treating his autism.

  3. Chris Tucker

    I liked this post. There has always been a “reason” for government to take freedom away. Hitler used the poor Jewish people as a scapegoat once, Rome used the Christians. Jenifer hit the mark with her reply. Now, all schools will have to do is draw “terrorist images” and SAY the autistic child did it. Pretty scary!

  4. Sojourner

    If only we had the ability to say that people who would do this to an autistic child should never be allowed (and certainly never paid) to work with children in the public school system – and make it happen. But maybe that would be a terroristic threat. You can’t be too careful when amassing power or giving it away.

  5. Dissent

    In a similar vein, a district in Texas recently suspended a 13-year old girl for making a “terrorist threat.” The girl was clowning around at the end of the class, pointing her finger at the blackboard and saying, and “Pow, Pow.” The teacher turned around, saw the finger pointed at her, and reportedly feared for her life. *cough*

    According to that district, a “terrorist threat” is a level four violation, which is on par with assault, public lewdness, or selling alcohol or drugs at school.” *cough* *cough*

    In 2006, the American Psychological Association reviewed zero tolerance policies and found no clear evidence to support the use of zero tolerance policies and much evidence to suggest that they were applied in a discriminatory way on the basis of race and possibly discriminatory basis on the basis of disability. Subsequent research has also found no clear evidence to support the use of these fecocktah policies and much to condemn them.

    I have my own zero tolerance policy. I have no tolerance for educators wrecking kids’ lives or causing PTSD by their outrageous handling of misbehavior. Having spent many hours of my life trying to explain to the police and ADA why they should NOT be charging disabled kids for what is, at worst, inappropriate behavior, I want to know why teachers who physically and verbally abuse students are almost never charged by these same prosecutors? Oh right, who’s going to believe a disabled kid?

  6. Chris Tucker

    Great Post Dissent!
    I am not an Attorney, but I have observed so called “Zero Tolerance” Prosecution policies used as an excuse for over zealous Prosecutors bent on making a name for themselves, often at the expense of those most unable to defend themselves.
    Our schools are a mess, every time a child acts like a kid, we put them on drugs like Ritalin and Adderall, hope I spelled that right ?

  7. SHG

    The issue of simplistic solutions, like zero tolerance and three strikes, has been discussed here many times.  When applied to LD children, however, it is singularly insidious.  That the educational community not only refuses to recognize the impropriety, but is directly responsible for its application (despite the policy) is affirmatively abusive.  What I find unimaginable is that those who should be more detached and reasonable because they aren’t directly involved, like police, prosecutors and usually judges, choose to be complicit in this lunacy.

    But we really have become a society of simplistic, and dangerous, solutions to every problem.

  8. kat

    As a mother of an 11 yr.old autistic daughter – who is a wonderful artist – and continuously draws anything and everything you can think of, not understanding that some pictures are not appropriate for others to see, I can only pray we don’t end up in a similar situation! However, thank God, so far at least we have reasonable and rational professionals for her teachers, therapists, aides, that understand that with Autism comes the inability to see things the way the rest of the world does. Misunderstanding a picture, their actions or words – in just the rest of the world failing to take the time to reach into the autism world of a child.The inability for these kids to express themselves in appropriate ways is all part of it! We need to be more open minded and try ourselves to figure out what is wrong with us – that we have let the child get to the point where they feel this much frustration and don’t know how else to communicate it! Or is it the fact that this child is mimicking what he saw – and just substituting his and the teacher’s names? Without taking the time to communicate with him – why is everyone jumping the gun and claiming terrorism! How sad our world is so horribly blind and cruel!

  9. Dissent

    In my experience, it has sometimes been the case that the police or prosecutor were never told that the student was disabled or the nature of the disability. Once I explain to them what’s really going on (which sometimes also includes teacher union issues!), they generally drop the matter and are often ticked off at the school. If a prosecutor knows that a kid is profoundly disabled and still brings these charges, well, then, I agree with you completely.

  10. SHG

    By the time we hear about it (meaning that it’s hit the media), the prosecutors, etc. know who they are dealing with.  They have the opportunity to say where they’re going and what they’re doing, and how they got there.  They can say they are dropping the charges, if that’s the case. They can say they wouldn’t have charged the child if they had known.  Or they can say that this is a threat to humanity compelling them to seek the most severe penalty possible. 

    Their call.

  11. Dissent

    That’s true. The cases I’ve been involved in had never gotten to the media at the point I was involved so it was easier, I guess, to make them go away.

    Carry on… 🙂

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