Autistic Boy Shamed By Teachers With 'Special' Award

"What does gullible mean?" This is the question that would lead to outrage in a mother after an 11-year-old autistic boy came home pondering the word.

Denis Harr is a fifth grader at Texas's Grady B. Rasco Middle School. According to NY Daily News, Denis is a special needs student with autism who attended an end-of-year field day with his classmates. At the field day, a group of teachers created a special awards ceremony. During the ceremony, children were given awards that some may see as mean-spirited. Denis' mother certainly thinks so.

The awards, which were created by the teachers themselves, were labels for the children such as "most likely to succeed," "most gullible," and "drama king." After voting, Denis received both the "Most Gullible" and "Drama King" awards. At the time he did not know the meaning behind the awards, but thought they might be bad.

They said they had chosen me for most gullible and drama king. I didn't know what they meant. I thought they meant something bad, like, that would make fun of you.
Denis' mom was furious when Denis brought the awards home. She feels like the teachers used poor judgement by utilizing labels for students so young.

"This is an age where they don't need to have labels put on them," Denis's mom Carmel Harr told KHOU.

Furthermore, Harr was not notified of the awards assembly prior to the field day. She claims that had she known about the ceremony, she would have put a stop to it. The teachers didn't choose who would receive each award; however, Harr feels that the teachers gave the kids approval to be mean to the other students by making negative labels for the children. Harr would like an apology from the school, but is still waiting on that. Ironically, the school's motto is "Teach the Mind and Touch the Heart". Hearts have been touched, but not for the reasons that we would hope.

Autistic children are already at a higher risk of being bullied by students, even without encouragement from their teachers. In fact, a study published in the journal of JAMA Pediatrics surveyed 920 parents of autistic children and found 46 percent of their children reported being victims of bullying in middle and high school, compared to the 10 percent of children in the general population.

The bullying can come from peers, teachers or even bus drivers. ABC6 reports that a school bus driver in south Florida is facing charges after being caught on video hitting an autistic boy. Likewise, two teacher aides in Georgia were videoed hitting, slapping and tossing an autistic boy at school according to KHOU. One of the aides has been charged, the other is currently under investigation.

Some parents are so fed up with the bullying and abuse of their autistic children they are taking matters into their own hands. For example, a father jumped on a bus and confronted his autistic son's offenders. He picked one of the children up by the hair and slammed him against the wall. Afterwards, he told the other children that if they didn't stop bullying his son, he would kill them. Though many believe he went overboard with his retaliation, it shows the frustration that many parents of autistic children feel when the school does nothing to stop their child's bully.

Knowing that children tend to pick on students who are different, should these labeling ceremonies be nixed? What do you think? Should schools continue with their traditional "labeling" ceremonies or is it a dated tradition that should fade away into the past?

[Image Credit: KHOU]