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Bermudian couple says autistic son abused by teacher in Ohio school

A Bermudian mother living in the United States is seeking justice for her autistic son, who she claims was abused by a teacher.

Ashlie O'Connor (nee DeSouza) is hoping a teacher who held her four-year-old son Adam upside down will be fired.

Yesterday, she described the ordeal since her son started in a new class at the beginning of the school year.

She said Adam went from begging to go to school to refusing to get dressed. Shortly after the term began she was called to the school and told the teacher had disciplined Adam inappropriately.

Mrs O'Connor said: “[During the meeting the teacher told us] she had found a way to discipline Adam, to stop him from throwing mulch in the air while saying out loud “fly, fly” . . . hanging him upside down by his feet would stop him.

“She sat there and openly admitted to us she had held my son upside down by his feet. We didn't know what to do. We were in shock.”

The teacher claimed she was using vestibular stimulation, a process where a professional alters the position of a person's head to deal with sensory integration issues. In reports filed during the disciplinary process, Mrs O'Conner said her family learned that “Adam was thrashing his body around, squealing and begging for his teacher to stop”.

Mrs O'Connor said the teacher's actions have caused her son to withdraw from people touching him and disconnect from his family.

She said the weekend after they were informed about the teacher's behaviour the family went on an outing to a fair with her mother, Susan Jones.

“When we arrived Adam noticed the fun castles and other little kids stuff,” she said. “He wanted to go there and I told him we would go after we walked around. He had a meltdown; my mom took him into her arms and walked him to the children's area.

“Standing in line waiting for his turn Adam had another meltdown, a severe one.

“My mom could not reach him, could not touch him, he sat on the ground as it was where he felt the safest. After a while he finally allowed my mom to hold him, to comfort him. My mom was devastated. This had never happened to her, to them.”

Mrs O'Connor added: “The teacher is able to go about her normal job while I am left picking up the pieces of my son. He was not like this before.”

The teacher was initially suspended from her job while an investigation was carried out. Mrs O'Connor said the Ohio Department of Education's Office of Professional Conduct suspended the teacher's licence on Wednesday but allowed her to continue working in the school if she followed certain restrictions. The Department did not respond to a request for comment.

Mrs O'Connor does not feel they have gone far enough and has created an advocacy page on Facebook, Justice for Adam, which had more than 800 supporters at press time.

She created a Facebook page out of frustration. She has been told she cannot appeal the Department of Education's decision and police have told her there appears to have been no criminal intent in the teacher's actions.

Many supporters have written about instances where educators or caretakers have poorly treated their children with special needs.

“I didn't expect the reaction to be so fast,” Mrs O'Connor said. “These children cannot speak up for themselves and we have people joining the page from around the world and sharing their stories. It is about advocacy, I finally feel like I am not alone in this.”

Mrs O'Connor and her Bermudian husband, Duarte, 28, are looking for legal advice on the situation as they do not want the teacher near Adam but cannot afford to send him to another school.

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Published March 11, 2011 at 9:00 am (Updated March 11, 2011 at 8:59 am)

Bermudian couple says autistic son abused by teacher in Ohio school

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