Parents of a boy with autism have been arrested and charged with child endangerment and false imprisonment after the authorities found reason to believe that the boy with autism had been caged in a dog kennel.
The parents told the authorities that they used the cage for his own protection, claiming their 11-year-old son with autism would become violent and was sometimes a danger to himself and others. Many Americans are appalled that anyone could cage their own child and are calling for prison time for the parents of the boy with autism, while others are saying, “Not so fast.”
The report sheds light on the growing crisis facing families affected by autism that is sweeping the nation.
Anaheim Police Department’s Lt. Bob Dunn told an ABC News affiliate:
“We did develop information here at the home and our preliminary investigation indicates that as the boy has gotten older, his outbursts have turned violent. They’ve had difficulty controlling him. This may have been their effort to try to control him better.”
An autism specialist in Santa Ana told Fox News that it’s not an unusual situation because parents who are not given access to autism treatment for their children often become overwhelmed. The specialist said that some parents see it as the only way to contain a violent child with autism. The specialist urged the public to see the parents’ choices as a spotlight on the lack of available autism treatment more than a testament of “evil parenting.”
Dr. Joseph Donnelly of the Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders spoke about the sad reality many children with autism face:
“They’re self-abusive, they’re hurting themselves, they’re aggressive to their mother, their father, their younger siblings, and I don’t think anyone can really understand the stress they’re under unless they see it or experience it for themselves.”
Difficulties that have grown from the autism crisis aren’t just isolated to the home life either. School systems are overwhelmed and many professionals within the school system are ill-equipped to handle the unique behaviors caused by autism.
In addition, even professionals don’t always understand or know how to handle autism tactfully. Still other professionals are abusive toward children with autism. The sad reality is that one in 68 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism, and our society is not prepared to handle the autism crisis.
Bill Webster, superintendent of a school district in Maine, told the Sun Journal, “There are more extremes in behaviors than we’ve dealt with before. It is not uncommon, unfortunately, for us to call the police.” Webster added that the school district has to call the police on autism related behavior that personnel can’t handle at least once a month.
Laura Shaw, principal of Sherwood Heights Elementary School, spoke of a young child with autism who had become out of control. She was able to calm him by holding him on her lap until he relaxed, but said, “I remember thinking, ‘OK, he’s so little. What’s he going to do when he’s bigger?'”
Some schools have even turned to using padded isolation rooms in an attempt to keep children safe. Of course, the public is not comfortable with dedicated padded rooms any more than it is comfortable with a dog cage either. Reports of these rooms being abused or children being injured from their use have sprung up as well.
Another worry for people trying to parent in a home with autism is wandering. Children with autism often wander away from the home, and still other run away when they become over-stimulated or upset. Sometimes this behavior results in the deaths of people with autism.
AWAARE is a non-profit organization dedicated to addressing the situation of wandering. The organization’s website urges families to have a wandering emergency plan.
Group homes and residential treatment programs do exist, but are not readily available until after a person with autism has already proven themselves to be violent. Even then, these treatment options are not ideal. In a feature article on Salon, one mother explained what happened when her older son with autism was in a residential setting:
“His destruction was utterly senseless yet brilliantly thorough: He submerged his computer, stereo and iPod in water; threw puzzle pieces and Styrofoam cups into the toilet and flushed them, plugging the pipes literally dozens of times a week; and urinated on every square inch of his room: bed, walls, floor, closet, everything but the ceiling and that only because he had not (yet, I suspect) figured out how.
When I asked him why he did these things he would say, eyes narrow like a night creature, ‘I don’t like being caged.'”
After her son ended up in a mental institution, caged in a white room, because of violence she believes was caused by her child’s inability to cope in an overwhelming world, she added, “We cannot solve this problem by hiding it, the way handicapped children themselves used to be tucked away in cellars.” Knowing it is unfair for humans to be caged like criminals, she had no solution to offer either.
It’s important to note that while researchers have found a statistical link to violence and even murders to autism or head injuries, not all children with autism are violent.
The Autism Society said:
“To imply or suggest that some linkage exists is wrong and is harmful to more than 1.5 million law-abiding, nonviolent and wonderful individuals who live with autism every day.”
Having autism doesn’t guarantee a child will be violent, but many children with autism, like the parents of the caged 11-year-old boy assert, do become violent as a result of their autism.
Ann Worley of Springfield told the Washington Post that she has a scar on her cheek from where her son with autism once bit her. “There was a time last September, I actually locked myself in the bathroom,” Worley said. “I was scared. I thought I was going to have to call the police.” She followed up with similar hesitations that many parents face: At the time, she wondered how the officers would have handled her autistic son.
A blog post from Age of Autism points out no real solutions, but does issue a warning:
“As the teens with autism age out this problem is going to grow. Cute little boys who punch are a far cry from adult men (and women) who can injure and even kill. Ask Trudy Steuernagel. We need better treatments so that our boys and girls, men and women on the spectrum receive proper care. We need to train law enforcement. And we need a national alarm to sound that the autism epidemic is very real. The coming years will bring grave challenges. Violent does not mean criminal – but is our system able to tell the difference? And how do we teach and protect our kids from the backlash?”
One mother dealing with autism told Inquisitr that in order to protect her son, she attached cushions to the windows in his room and equipped his room with an alarm. She knew locks on the outside of the bedroom door was not an option, even though it is a cage-less solution for far too many parents dealing with autism. A locked room is still considered a form of imprisonment, and she finds the idea dangerous and unacceptable. She said parents need more training to properly handle autism.
The Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities offers a free, online training series for parents. Autism Internet Modules also offers training. Hospitals across the country also offer classes and support groups for parents.
SimpleSteps Autism has online information about the ABA approach to autism. Parents who wish to find more positive ways to raise a child with autism can find information online, even as state services are stretched too thin to accommodate them.
Yale’s professor Lawrence Scahill studied how well parent training worked towards improving home lives affected by autism. He said, “On the tantrums, the aggression and the self-injury, the combination of medications and parent training was better. How much better? Not a huge amount, but it was an incremental improvement over an already effective improvement.” Parent training is lacking in the United States, according to Health Daily.
Neighbors of the California couple who were charged with child endangerment and false imprisonment say all three children in the house appeared happy and healthy. According to police, the 6-foot-tall crate contained a mattress and bedding and allowed the boy to stand and move around.
Though the couple still faces charges, Anaheim police hope that the discovery of the cage might bring some good to the struggling family. Lt. Dunn hopes that this may result in the family getting the help it needs because a cage is not an acceptable solution. The story about the parents who claim they had no recourse – but to actually cage their own child – demonstrates clearly that the nation is unprepared to handle the growing autism crisis.