Autism is not a disability that gives anyone the right to punish or abuse a child or adult in any way. Sadly, to this day such behavior is a constant threat to many people on the spectrum, whether high or low functioning. The disorder causes problems with social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication difficulties, sensory challenges, and a variety of behavior challenges. Many co-morbid conditions also co-exist with the disorder, such as a variety of anxiety disorders that tend to be severe, add/adhd symptoms, and depression, just to name a few. Most people in the general population may not even realize they may live by or near an individual that is on the high-end of the spectrum. That is until they actually take the time to get to know them.
Autism is a spectrum disability, meaning that no two cases are alike. With one in every 88 people being diagnosed with some form of autism, it is hard to understand why so many people within the community still misunderstand how people with autism experience and work with the world around them. There are just way too many cases of bullying, disability discrimination, physical and verbal abuse occurring. In many instances it has to do with a lack of public education and understanding. Sometimes it also comes down to people just refusing to understand that autism is a true disorder. Many are ignorant of the needs of the individual, especially when they come in contact with someone who may be higher functioning.
Recently, an autism therapist for a 3-year-old autistic boy, who was hired to help care for him, was accused of abusing the child. The family became suspicious of 27-year-old Stephen Jacobs when no improvement was being noticed, and it seemed the child was showing fearful behavior. His amazing mother took the initiative and set up a camera that caught the therapist yanking her son around the room, throwing him on the couch and even head butting him.
On January 15, Stephen Jacobs decided not to go forward with a preliminary hearing and he has entered a plea of “not guilty” to all of the charges facing him for abusing this innocent autistic child. Jacobs faces multiple charges of abuse, including sexual assault, of a minor. The little boy was receiving treatment from a local organization named Autism Intervention Milwaukee. His mother noticed that her severely autistic son seemed to be more impaired than they believed, so she expressed her concerns to her son’s doctors in regards to a treatment change.
The autistic boy received therapy from 4 different therapists,. and neither of the parents were allowed to be present at sessions, according to the criminal complaint. Now, to any parent, this would seem to be an extreme red flag in such a situation. If a parent cannot even attend therapy sessions, let alone at least be able to observe in a separate, concealed observation room, something is amiss. The boy’s mother, observing the acts live, had the abusive therapist leave the house immediately, then courageously called the police in to investigate. Jacobs admitted to police that he was currently studying for criminology and working with two autism clinics at the same time. He also admitted he was studying for a final exam on his kindle during the time he was supposed to be caring for the little boy and complained that he only got $9.50 an hour for the job.
A small research project that has been launched in Medway, London; has shown that at least a third of adults with autism deal with consistent bullying, verbal abuse and physical assault just in that local area. Although, this research only touches on a fragment of adults on the spectrum who actually deal with such abuse around the world, it is extremely damaging to those who have any form of autism or learning disability. The pilot project is to help educate police and other officials in order to prevent criminal acts on vulnerable adults who have autism and learning disabilities. This kind of victimization is inhumane and cruel to people who live with an autism or learning disability.
What many people need to realize is that whether a person is verbal or non-verbal, high functioning or lower functioning on the autism spectrum, many people with autism do not know how to express that such abuse is occurring. It is actually a long learning process in order to become more assertive and to learn how to stand up to certain individuals in the community, within the work force, or even within families, who think their actions will not go unnoticed. That is why strong advocating is needed in order to prevent criminal acts upon all children and adults who have autism, because autism is not a disability that permits anyone to punish or abuse a person in any way or form.
By Tina Elliott