Single Moms Raising Autistic Sons

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

11 Year Old Autistic Boy Charged with Felony Assault. by Elizabeth McBreen

One day in October of last year began as a normal school day for Zakhquery Price of Fort Smith, Arkansas. Well, a normal school day for a child with autism who attends school in a district that is completely unequipped to deal with his disability.

By the end of that day, the eleven year old autistic boy had been arrested, placed in a cell with typical juvenile offenders and charged with felony assault. Price has no prior record of violence, and although he has been diagnosed as autistic, he has never received proper treatment or therapies. And this was not the first time the police had been called to deal with the boy. Carole Reynolds, Price’s grandmother says that he has become the victim of Arkansas’s “good old boys system”. And she is tired of keeping quiet.

When Price began having problems while interacting with peers in typical classrooms in first grade, the district suggested he be placed in a program for behavioral problems. Reynolds says that when Price’s behavior deteriorated further as a result of the new placement, the family removed him from the program. Since then, she says the district has been trying to oust Price by any means possible. In the meantime, Price has not progressed passed a first grade level.

In March of 2007, Price had a meltdown in school. Without parental consent, the boy was taken to Vista Health, an Arkansas psychiatric hospital. For the next two and a half years, says Reynolds, her grandson was moved from one mental institution to another. Six months after Price arrived at Vista, his Medicaid funding ran out. The court decided that he would be moved to a day program which soon “gave up” on Price, according to Reynolds. Price was then moved to Mill Creek of Arkansas which provides services for emotionally disturbed and developmentally disabled children. When Medicaid funding again ran dry, Price was moved to Habberton House, a residential treatment facility.

Reynolds was shocked to receive a telephone call from a Medicaid office last spring. The caller inquired about how Price was doing at Habberton House. “I told them that he had never been worse. He was released in May of 2009,” says Reynolds. “From the age of eight to ten and a half, he wasn’t in a normal classroom. He doesn’t know how to behave.” It was just two weeks after Price was taken to Vista Health in March of 2007, that his family received results of an evaluation he had undergone. The results stated that Price was autistic. But Reynolds says that every institution and program he has been in since has ignored his diagnosis. “They just have no idea about autism around here,” says Reynolds.

In an effort to start this school year out on the right foot, Price’s mother requested an Individualized Education Program meeting (IEP) this summer. The request was denied. The district said that the IEP would be conducted once the school year began. Price was placed in a typical classroom of 28 students. “Two and a half months after the school year began, he had already been suspended 14 times and they had called the police on him,” says Reynolds. The family was granted a temporary IEP in mid-October. At the meeting, it was decided that Price would be moved to a classroom for emotionally disturbed children. The family believed that was the safest place for Price. In that classroom, he would have a quiet corner of his own. He would go there when he got upset.

On October 30th, when the class turned to Spelling, a known trigger for Price, he began to act out. “Instead of leaving him alone, the teacher said that Zakh could sit by her. You can’t do that, you have to just leave him alone, but she didn’t,” says Reynolds. “So he trashed the room. And he’ll admit that he did it.” Moments later, Reynolds says that the teacher, now joined by the principal of the school, cornered Zakh in his quiet space and attempted to restrain him. Becoming frustrated, he began to push his way out. He kicked the principal and pushed his teacher into a bookcase.

Twenty-five minutes after Price’s meltdown began, the school called the police. Then they called Price’s family, who lives five minutes away from the school. Price was arrested and charged with felony assault, even though, says Reynolds, both teacher and principal did not sustain any long-term injuries and did not miss any school after the incident. Since the case is now in due process, a representative for the school district refused to answer any questions about Price’s case. The lawyer representing the Beard Elementary also refused to comment on the case.

Now Price awaits his court date, which has been pushed from January to April, with no explanation from the court. Price’s therapist made a request for homebound schooling for the duration of the school year. Reynolds says that he has been approved for just four hours a week with an in-home teacher. He receives 30 minutes of speech therapy a week.

Reynolds says that she was advised by several people not to rock the boat by going public about Price’s case, but after watching her grandson suffer and regress for three years, she thought “I’ve got nothing to lose.” Reynolds says that as a result of her talking to the media, the public defender that was representing Price became angry. “I felt forced to hire a private attorney.” Because the family could not afford an attorney on its own, Reynolds says that their community came together and helped raise the needed funds for a retainer.

Theresa Caldwell is the lawyer who took on Price’s case. She says that the actions of the school district were extreme. Caldwell is new to the case and has not yet thoroughly studied the case or spoken to the district, but she says, “It’s as if the district is trying to disrupt the child’s placement. It looks like they do not want him there.” Caldwell also says that it appears that Price’s teacher may have purposely escalated the situation. Caldwell will have a chance to speak with the teacher and principal in February. In the meantime, Reynolds is speaking out on behalf her grandson. Although she fears he is the victim of corrupt system, she continues to hope that she can somehow offer him a safe and fulfilling future.

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