A Question for Lawyers and Parents of Autistic/Aspergers Children

So one of the things happening in my neck of the woods these days is a special needs teacher is in trouble. This teacher was having trouble with a non-verbal autistic child. Said teacher slapped the child across the face causing a tooth to come loose. Teacher now has a court date to face criminal charges but I don’t know what charges or at what level.
The child is 6 years old, and described as 4 feet tall, weighing 66 pounds.
Teacher is reported as claiming she was in fear for her life.

The parents of the child are asking or suing (not sure which) for $2500 to cover immediate medical costs, a public apology and “other appropriate measures”

My take is this, the parents realize their child can be difficult to deal with at times but feel the “slap” was not appropriate, and the “other appropriate measures” can mean anything from they feel the criminal charges the teacher is facing are the correct course to they don’t want to get in the way publicly of anything to they are waiting to see what happens and may bring some sort of suit later if they don’t feel teacher was punished enough.
My question for those of you who are parents of children with autism or otherwise with some form of aspergers, how credible is this teachers claim of fear for her life? Keep in mind what is posted above is all I know at this point.
For the Lawyers and Parents alike;
What is your take on the parents reaction to this?
What would your reaction be if it were your child?
What level of criminal charges do you think the teacher should be facing? (In my mind the teacher commited battery of a child so some sort of criminal prosecution is appropriate)
Should the teacher face any civil prosecution by the parents and or the school district?
Should the teacher lose her teaching credentials? Permantly or temporarily if you think yes?
Ok, I guess that was more than one question, but those are the ones that I’m interested in right now.

I don’t think it’s possible to answer without knowing if it’s conceivably possible that the teacher could have feared, if not for his life, at least for his safety.

It seems weird to me to envision a 6 yo being a threat for an adult, but I still woud like to know more about the exact circumstances and what the teacher could have been afraid of exactly.

Had the child actually been threatening the teacher, wouldn’t the threat have consisted of some use of hands or feet? Wouldn’t the teacher’s defense have required gripping the student’s wrists and/or somehow blocking the student’s feet? What possible “life-threatening” attack was defended against by slapping the student’s face? The story as offered is puzzling.

Not a lawyer; spent 8 years working in a residential facility with children from the age of 6 to 18 with significant behavioral issues. Some were autistic; some were minimally-verbal.

I think the parents are being very, very, very reasonable, and in fact I’m SHOCKED by this. In this incredibly lawsuit-happy society, it’s nice to see a situation where people are approaching such a situation in a fairly calm, rational manner (based only on what you’re describing here). The kid may very well have been a holy terror known for biting the hell out of people, and the teacher might have thought that the slap was the only defense she had. The teacher may also have way overreacted in the heat of the moment, particularly if it was a new teacher. I can say I’ve seen small behaviorally-disordered kids do some pretty extreme damage, so I can easily envision a scenario where a professional might react badly, but that never excuses injuring a child.

IMO, the teacher should face criminal charges, but not felony-level. Teaching license should be pulled; sounds like this is not a good line of work for her.

Parent of not one, but two Aspergers children.

First up I want to say that the sad reality is that many teachers and school districts are not adequately trained to deal with children on the spectrum. Trained individuals understand how to deal with a 6 year old autistic child having a meltdown. There are a variety of options, from re-direction to giving the child space to restraint to prevent injury to themselves or others. Hitting a child across the face is not on the list. The fact that this teacher was a Special Education teacher implies some level of training in dealing with children with disabilities. This should not have happened.

It seems very restrained to me.

  1. Require different placement for the child. Immediately. The phrase is “appropriate placement”, meaning a program or school that is actually trained and equipped to deal with the disability in question, while providing an appropriate education.
  2. Require, at a minimum, adequate training for this teacher. Push for new training across the district, but wouldn’t expect to get it.
  3. Require disciplinary action. What would the district do in ordinary circumstances if a teacher hit a 6 year old so hard that a tooth was loosened. Think about it. An adult belted a first grader in the face - violently.
  4. Report to the police.
  5. Reimbursement from the district for medical and counseling expenses. Also, attorney’s fees, if required.
  6. Report the district to the relevant state agencies.

Yes, I agree that any adult who hits a 6 year old that hard should face a criminal trial.

Oddly, very few civil prosecution options are available in disability related cases when a school district is involved. This may vary state to state. In any case, my answer is no. Criminal penalty, appropriate discipline via the district and required re-training.

I would actually need to know more before I answered this question. Is this a pattern of behavior, for example. I would absolutely want her re-trained before she went anywhere near a classroom again. There’s still the criminal penalties to consider as well. She may not be able to return to a classroom with a conviction.
Yes, autistic children can be trying. Almost any child with a disability can be trying. A teacher has no business in Special Ed if they can’t manage this aspect of teaching in that environment.

My wife taught Special Ed for 35 years and had her share of students with behavioral challenges. While a 6-year old in a meltdown can absolutely be a physical threat, that’s not only the wrong way to deal with it, the teacher should look for a new line of work.

IANA parent, much less of a disabled kid but I do have a question about teeth.

ISTR that around age 6 a lot of kids have a lot of naturally loose teeth. For me that age would have been 1st grade. Am I remembering the right age for losing milk teeth & gaining real teeth?

A teacher slapping a kid is way out of line in this day and age. Done as an attention step it might have been an acceptable idea 30 or 50 years ago but not today. And certainly not for an emotionally challenged kid.

But I wonder how much the teacher caused the loose tooth versus merely encountered a naturally loose or loosening tooth. By the time you hit someone in the face hard enough to loosen healthy teeth you’re up in the concussion zone. Against a 66lb kid I’d expect them to have flown a few feet across the room if hit that hard. It sorta sounds like maybe that kind of hit is not what really happened here.

I have a 5 year old son on the autism spectrum. The only way he could reasonably threaten my life would be if he had a light saber. I’d have a real hard time accepting the teacher’s excuse for striking the child.

I think that the response is appropriate: some sort of legal repercussion for the assault, likely a loss of teaching credentials and immediate restitution for medical costs.

I am suffering from a grievous lack of info here, and I am planning to look around and see what more I can find out tomorrow when I have more time. It seems puzzling because I only heard about it listening to a local talk show on the radio while driving at work, so never really heard all of it, for some reason though this really grabbed me mentally for the day.

As for the loose tooth, I dunno, it kind of seems to me that it could go either way or no way at all, was the tooth loose or about to come loose on its own? I’m thinking probably so. I’ve taken a tooth loosing hit to the face as a 175 pound adult and I landed a good 5ish feet away. Like LSLGuy said, the kid would have been knocked across the room. However I must add that my 6 year old guestling doesn’t have any yet. (his six year oldyness is still new though)

But I still think of what the teacher did as battery of a minor.

I guess that lack of info is part of why I’m so curious about this. Both from a factual perspective and an opinion point of view.

I’d say that teacher is in deep shit. The school district should be damn thankful they aren’t getting sued for much larger sums. You just can’t hit a six year old autistic kid.

I am not sure what Aspergers has to do with this situation - it seems like part of the issue here is that the child was non-verbal. Take it from the parent of a child who dodged an Aspergers diagnosis by a hair - Aspergers kids are usually hyper-verbal.

Anyway, not enough information to make a judgment here. But a couple of observations:

  • I can believe being that being very frightened of a 6-year-old is within the realm of possibility (we had a 5-year-old Fresh Air child back when I was a teen who scared the crap out of me and was occasionally quite violent), but the likelihood of this happening would be easily documented by past behavior, a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, etc. If none of that history exists, I’m skeptical that suddenly out of the blue the teacher needed to be so frightened.

  • The fact that it seems like, at least so far, the parents are only asking for medical costs is a point in their favor. If they were immediately slapping the school and/or teacher with a multi-million dollar law suit, one could believe that they were being hysterical or greedy.

My wife just retired from the county office of ed. They service the special needs children.

If a child is having a “melt down” there are procedures in handling the child. A slap to the face is outside that procedure. It is not a defensive action but a offensive act.

When an administrator is made aware that a teacher has struck a student, administration begins an investigation. Was child really hit? If yes put the teacher on administrative leave begin to collect facts as to what happen and notify upper level admiration. Upper level administration will make the decision to call police or not. This should happen within the day or next day. If it does not it can get ugly for the office that does not act in a timely manner. The police will investigate and forward what they find out to the DA. the DA, not the parents, not the school, makes the decision if charges will be filed.

Part of the investigation the administration makes will be forward to the state. The state will make the decision on the teaching credentials. I the teacher did slap the student I would expect that she will loose her credentials.

Father of a child on the spectrum who had about a 20 word vocabulary in kindergarten. Non verbal kids in that age range can be seriously frustrated (they are locked in their own heads and can’t communicate or just at a very basic level). This can cause them to act out. But we’re talking kindergarten or first grade kid here, and a real fear for your life threat is not credible.

What is your take on the parents reaction to this? Very restrained. That said, many spectrum parents are realistic, know their kids can be difficult to handle, and just trying to get through life as well as they can
What would your reaction be if it were your child? Quiet fury. Try to understand what happened and the context, and if I felt after that this was excessive, then go after them hard. But I also understand that maybe my child did something over the top (I had bloody scratches on my face from when my daughter would be frustrated, not able to communicate and rip her fingernails across my face. My response was to grab her hands and squeeze until it was painfully uncomfortable. Took ages to break that habit). So, if I knew my child would bite hard and not let go, I would have warned the teacher and maybe be open to the response being tolerated.
What level of criminal charges do you think the teacher should be facing? (In my mind the teacher commited battery of a child so some sort of criminal prosecution is appropriate)
Should the teacher face any civil prosecution by the parents and or the school district? Unless there is some extenuating circumstance that the parents agree with, then yes.
Should the teacher lose her teaching credentials? Permantly or temporarily if you think yes? Again, unless there are some extenuating circumstances that parents accept, the teaching credential should be at least temporarily suspended. Not sure if it’s your question, but I would want to see the teacher prevented from teaching special needs kids permanently.
Ok, I guess that was more than one question, but those are the ones that I’m interested in right now.

I think they changed the diagnosis where now everyone is just ASD, they’re just on the spectrum. Children that were diagnosed with Asperger’s were verbal by definition. If a kid is non-verbal they were just considered Autistic.

No excuse for the teacher striking the child - special needs or no. Parents are being extremely reasonable (unless the “other appropriate measures” turns out to include huge punitive damages…)

Special needs teachers require abilities which I personally lack. And dealing with (educating?) special needs children can impose a tremendous strain upon our public schools.

I don’t fit into any of those categories, but my initial response is that I can’t see a slap in the face as self-defense. If she had to punch, push, or hold the kid in some way that might be justifiable as self-defense. Yes the kid is small, but that doesn’t mean the kid couldn’t threaten an adult. However, a slap in the face is not an instinctive or trained response to violence - it’s about dominance or punishment or something along those lines, and self-defense is about stopping the threat with as little harm as possible. To me it indicates that the teacher was frustrated and trying to ‘teach the kid a lesson’, not in fear of serious injury from an out-of-control kid.

A 6 year old that is 66 pounds can very well be a danger. My brother-in-law and his wife both work in special ed, and they have both been hurt by little children. They are both very good teachers, but those little kids are extremely violent sometimes, and often have no idea of their strength.

All that being said, slapping him in the face was probably not warranted! My sister-in-law, for example, got hurt when a child was hanging onto her arm with his entire weight - pulled her arm so hard he wrenched a muscle. And she still didn’t slap him to get him off.

There’s a spectrum between “a six year old can kick/scratch/bite me” and “I was in fear for my life”. If the teacher is using the second option as her defense for slapping a child across the face, then there needs to be a credible argument that a six year old is not just capable of harm but of life-threatening injury to an adult.

Casting my imagination widely, I could imagine a possible situation where it might be understandable for someone to slap someone else. Tho I’m not advising violence, I could imagine a parent or partner doing that if confronted by someone who is hysterical. Hopefully there would almost always be better options, but I could imagine rare instances where a slap might “get someone’s attention”, distract them, however you wish to describe it. Moreover, a parent or loved one is simply doing their best, with whatever training/experience/resources they have.

None of this applies to a teacher or someone employed providing services to special needs clients.

Teacher simply cannot strike a child. It’s dicey enough, legally, to put a restraint hold on a kid and even then teacher is supposed to be certified in the maneuver. That said:

Parenting a kid who tends to get out of control, especially on the level autistics can go, is demanding and exhausting. There is always the nagging fear the school will do the “responsible” thing and disenroll the child citing insufficient resources to educate him. School is, after all, for educating kids, not a daycare for difficult children. That puts the parents in a pickle. The parents in the OP might be playing it cool because they don’t want to jeopardize their relationship with the school. Unless you’ve been there, it’s hard to explain the amount of stress a super disruptive child can put on the entire family. Finding a new school is no small thing to toss onto the pile.

People underestimate the damage a child is capable of causing to an adult, especially if he is unencumbered by social constraints. Think about it like wrestling a raccoon. Sure, you can body slam it and crush it, but good luck getting it into position without taking some daunting injuries–relentless bites, shrieks, scratches.

As for the OP story, consider perhaps the teacher became distracted from the enraged kid for a few seconds and turned around to see set of teeth inches away from her hand or face. Anyone would smack that out of instinct.