Punishments too harsh for boy with autism?

ARLINGTON COUNTY (WUSA9) -- An Arlington family is outraged over the punishments their son received at his Arlington County elementary school.

Trigie Ealey has pulled seven-year-old Vaughan out of Randolph Elementary because of his treatment, she says. Vaughan is what some call "twice exceptional." He has a high IQ, is gifted in Math, English and Science, but also has been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (Asperger's), ADHD and anxiety disorder.

Ealey made the abrupt decision after her son asked her to see where his desk had been moved. She says she peaked into Vaughan's classroom and saw his desk up against and facing a wall, isolated from the other students. Ealey says her son has also been punished with silent lunches in the vice principal's office. She says the punishments only make Vaughan believe he is a bad person, and are counter-productive to his needs and his 'Individual Education and Behavior Plans' which call for positive reinforcements. Isolating Vaughan, Ealey says, compounds the social problems he has because of the Autism. She has letters from Vaughan's doctors advising against punishments.

"I think he is being punished for not being Autistic enough. I think they look at him and they say, 'He is so smart, look at his test scores…he should be able to behave himself, like a neurologically-typical kid. But he's not," said Ealey.

She and her husband have requested Vaughan be transferred to Arlington's Hoffman-Boston Elementary School where the principal has agreed to accept him. But Ealey says Arlington School officials refused the transfer saying it was too late in the school year. She says her fight is about more than just her son.

"I know there are other children in this district and everywhere that are misunderstood. It's really lack of training and misunderstanding of what it is that they are seeing," said Ealey.

Ealey says she is being threatened with truancy charges, by refusing to bring her son back to school, but she and her husband are holding out hope the Arlington County School Board will let him transfer to the other school.

They have thought about filing a lawsuit or putting Vaughan in a private school, but both options may be too expensive.

A spokesman for Arlington County Public Schools provided this written statement:

Federal and state student confidentiality laws do not permit us to comment on cases involving specific students. In all cases involving a request to transfer schools, the staff of the individual schools involved, along with central office staff, continually work with parents to make the best decision, even if there are sometimes different viewpoints as to what that decision should be. APS staff has procedures and policies in place to help guide the decision-making process, but must also exercise their educational experience and judgment about what is appropriate for the particular student at the time and under the circumstances. These policies and procedures, along with available options, are regularly shared with parents. We will continue to communicate with the parents.


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