Pennsylvania Autistic Child Sexually Assaulted

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Pennsylvania Autistic Child Sexually Assaulted

Postby mom_of_an_autie » Fri Jun 09, 2006 10:44 pm

Did anyone hear about this?

Pennsylvania Autistic Child Sexually Assaulted; School covers it up

A sexual assault, then silence: Lemoyne Middle School controversy

Sunday, May 21, 2006
Of The Patriot-News

Computer class was over, and the eighth-grade lunch bell had rung when Robbie was invited into the boys' rest room.

The other kid was bigger than he, but Robbie was 13, and Lemoyne Middle School was a safe place.

Could a rest room be dangerous?

For Robbie, an active, friendly child, questions needed concrete answers.

He was autistic. The way his mind worked, things were yes or no, white or black, dangerous or safe.

He had no built-in radar for hidden meanings. He had no intuition to tell him that bad things could happen in a school rest room and lead to other bad things -- nightmares about death for him, heartache for Robbie's parents and a ripple effect of outrage and controversy that would last a school year.

So Robbie accepted the bigger boy's invitation.

He was small and thin. He was quick to laugh, went boogie-boarding at the New Jersey shore and was an absolute fanatic about cars.

Car ads had helped him learn to read. He pored over Web sites featuring Lamborghinis and Ferraris. Adults were identified by what they drove.

"Still have that red Geo Prism?" he would ask.

Cars were all cut-and-dried facts. Model years, engine types, top speeds. A safe zone, his parents realized, for a mind that needed order.

The school rest room offered no safe zone.

"I went in with him, and he made me put my pants down and his own pants down," Robbie wrote, later that day, in a statement to school officials.

It described, in childish terms, a sexual assault.

In search of a 'safe zone':

Robbie is not the boy's real name. His parents, one of whom works at The Patriot-News, asked that his real name not be published. This newspaper's policy is not to name victims or purported victims of sexual assaults.

Had one occurred in the small rest room near the computer lab, about 12:30 p.m. on Oct. 6?

The teacher who walked in on the boys apparently was not sure. He did not detain the children.

He went to the school office, extremely troubled by what he had seen, according to accounts given to Robbie's parents by a building administrator. It took time -- possibly 15 minutes -- for the teacher to explain exactly what he had seen, Robbie's parents said.

Meanwhile, Robbie's school day had lost its order.

He needed a "safe zone."

He wandered into the classroom of a trusted learning-support teacher but revealed nothing of what had happened, his parents said.

He went to the cafeteria for lunch. So did his attacker, so the boys ate in the same room, Robbie's parents said.

Not until later, they said, was Robbie fetched from a post-lunch class.

In the office, he was asked to fill out an incident report. He described, in writing, how the sexual assault started with the boys standing, and then "he forced me on the bathroom floor ..."

Haunted by this memory:

How much time had passed?

How long had Robbie been alone with the awfulness of what had happened to him, his autistic mind perhaps categorizing it as just growing up, or just being friends, or just being at school?

His parents do not know. An hour, perhaps.

What they do know is that time span will always haunt them. It is an ice pick of memory, forever poised to puncture their sense of well-being.

Robbie's father breaks down, speaking of it.

He said, "I wasn't there for my son ..."

Delivering the news:

The call from school came about 2:10 p.m.

Robbie's mother was at work. It was a busy place, with lots of people around.

A school administrator told her -- with no specifics -- that something had happened but Robbie was "OK," his mother recalled. She knew that her husband would be arriving at the school, soon, on a routine visit.

Not until a second phone conversation with a school administrator, about 25 minutes later, did she learn exactly what had happened.

"That is when he told me the graphic details of my son being raped," she said.

Robbie's mother felt herself "dissolving." She made it to the company lunchroom before she burst into tears.

I want to see my son:

Robbie's parents were school regulars. They picked their son up after school, went on field trips, watched Robbie at school dances.

When his father arrived at Lemoyne Middle School about 2:40 p.m. on Oct. 6, it was, to him, nothing but a regular visit -- until he was summoned into an office and told that Robbie had reported a sexual assault.

Shocked, angry, he had one thought: I want to see my son.

Robbie waited in the guidance office.

He was still trying to classify, in his mind, what had happened to him.

"His first question," Robbie's father recalled, "was, 'Am I in trouble, Dad?'"

'The cover-up thing':

Exactly what happened in the rest room that day is shrouded by juvenile confidentiality laws.

The 14-year-old boy who invited Robbie there was later charged with involuntary deviate sexual intercourse, a felony, and is being prosecuted by the Cumberland County district attorney's office. Robbie's parents pulled their son out of Lemoyne Middle School, and he has not returned.

They blame West Shore School District for mishandling the incident from the moment it was discovered.

They cannot understand why they did not learn of the assault until about two hours after it occurred. And the West Shore Regional Police were not called until after 3:30 p.m. -- and on a nonemergency line, the parents said.

Howard E. Dougherty, the police chief, is a member of the West Shore School Board. He would not say when his department was called, and referred questions to the district attorney's office.

Prosecutors declined to discuss the case because the defendant is a juvenile.

West Shore Superintendent Richard Domencic said the victims' parents have indicated they intend to sue the school district, so he could not discuss specifics.

Generally speaking, certain information about an incident must be collected before police are notified, he said. The process can take time. One thing that can prolong it is the need to communicate with someone of limited English proficiency, he said.

The district evaluates incidents on a case-by-case basis "to see if parent notification is appropriate," Domencic said.

"This was an isolated incident, and no other students were at risk," he said.

Robbie's parents said the district compounded the pain by failing to acknowledge publicly that an attack had occurred. No letter was sent home to other parents.

Meanwhile, the district sought and won an award for Lemoyne Middle School -- an award whose criteria included safety.

That disturbs parents of other autistic children in West Shore.

"The cover-up thing," said one, Marcia Delafield. "That's what this is."

Another, Judy Chabanik, said children still talk about what happened in that Lemoyne Middle School rest room.

"The rumors are flying. You still hear of it," Chabanik said. " ... On some level, it needs to be spoken of ... So it doesn't happen again."

Summoned to the office:

Patrice Thompson, a Lemoyne Middle School parent, learned about the assault in late March, from another parent.

She wondered if the perpetrator was still in school. She told her eighth-grade son about the incident, warned him to be careful around the rest rooms, and told him to let other children know.

"This is something that everybody should be aware of because they need to be safe," Thompson said.

Her son, a member of the National Junior Honor Society, is small for his age. I

n an interview, the eighth-grader described how he told friends about the assault. Soon afterward, he was summoned to the school office, where the principal and assistant principal questioned him about what he was telling children, the boy said.

The administrators, he said, called his mother's description of the assault in the bathroom a "rumor."

Patrice Thompson was incensed.

In an e-mail to the school, she wrote: "I have a problem with you calling my son to the office. ... I do not appreciate that, as a parent, I was not made aware of a potentially dangerous situation that my children may have been exposed to at Lemoyne."

An e-mail reply arrived a week later.

It said, "Whatever you choose to believe, Lemoyne is a safe school, and the teachers here care very much about our children and their welfare. Our silence is not indicative of a 'cover up' or an attempt to lie about the situation. We just cannot talk about issues you are asking to tell everyone around the school."

The autism population:

Autism, a neurological disorder, inhibits the ability to communicate and interact socially. Manifestations vary widely.

Some people lead near-normal lifestyles, but some need constant care.

Robbie is a 14-year-old on the calendar and a 10-year-old inside, according to his father. He hates vegetables, surfs the Web for car sites and laughs loudly at "The Simpsons."

His education progresses with adequate attention, but his autism has deprived him of strong notions of how to act and react with people.

"This is an incredibly vulnerable population," said Karen Woodings, president of the Greater Harrisburg Autism Society.

Her 15-year-old autistic son attended Lemoyne Middle School. West Shore School District has created new programs for such children and is "making huge strides on autism," she said.

Delafield has a 9-year-old daughter who is autistic. The daughter attends Highland Elementary School.

Delafield learned details of the assault on Robbie from another parent. She imagined her own daughter being led off by another child.

Delafield said she could easily imagine her daughter thinking, "Oh, he just wants to be my friend."

Autistic children present a challenge to school administrators.

"They tend to act inappropriately," said one retired midstate principal. " ... Other kids might tend to pick on them or not understand them because they act oddly."

She has seen autistic children "encourage bullying as a way of getting attention," she said. Still, they can be accommodated in the mainstream school population if others in the building are aware unusual behaviors might occur, the retired principal said.

School administrators silent:

Lemoyne Middle School was shooting for statewide recognition.

When the attack occurred, a committee of 10 staff members was far along in developing an application for a Don Eichhorn Award.

Named for a pioneering figure in middle school development, the Eichhorn awards were to be bestowed by the Pennsylvania Middle School Association. One criterion was an "inviting, supportive, and safe environment."

In March, Robbie's parents learned Lemoyne was to be named a winner.

"We were appalled," his mother said.

She said she telephoned Marybeth Irvin, a PMSA official, on March 10, and told her about the assault on her son at Lemoyne. On March 19, Lemoyne was named an Eichhorn award winner at PMSA's annual conference.

When a reporter reached Irvin by telephone, she declined comment.

In a written statement, PMSA said it learned of the incident after its selection process was finished.

"We recognize the fact that a similar incident could occur in any school," it said. All of the good works and best practices that are occurring at Lemoyne should not be diminished by what is apparently an isolated, though traumatic incident."

Monitoring improved:

Domencic, the superintendent, said Lemoyne building administrators would not be permitted to give interviews. He rejected any notion that the effort to secure the award might have influenced the decision on whether to tell parents about the assault.

"Absolutely not," he said.

Domencic said that after Oct. 6, the district beefed up supervision during class changes, recess and cafeteria use. More adults were detailed to monitor certain areas, including rest rooms, and were told of "things to be looking for."

Lemoyne and all other West Shore schools are safe, Domencic said.

A parent in Thompson's situation -- one who hears of a possible incident in school -- should contact an administrator, he said. Schools and parents work together, not against each other, he said.

West Shore, he said, will not hide things, but at the same time will "respect a child's right to privacy."

No peace, even in sleep:

The day after the assault, Robbie had a reason to smile.

The investigating West Shore Regional Police officer let Robbie sit inside a police cruiser. He even was allowed to turn on the siren.

But his safe zones seem fewer in number. Sleep is no longer one of them.

In one of Robbie's nightmares, a guy with a laser tries to kill him. In another, he is the victim of a James Bond moviestyle plot. During dreams, Robbie whimpers, and his arms and legs thrash.

His parents are cobbling together a new education plan for Robbie. There is a lot to consider: strength of autism program, travel distance, finances.

And the question that, since Oct. 6, defies an answer.

Where is a child really safe?

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Postby LittleManzParents » Fri Jun 09, 2006 11:05 pm


Just when I was feeling good about Winnie taking a bong hit, you had to post this horrid story. :(

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Postby Gabesmom » Fri Jun 09, 2006 11:59 pm

Just one more reason I'm seriously considering homeschooling my kids. I can barely trust other people with my daughter's safety. How am I ever going to be able to trust people with my son? :( :(
Jennifer, Mother to Anna, 5 (NT), Gabriel, 4, Autistic

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Postby MCA » Sat Jun 10, 2006 12:15 am

She has seen autistic children "encourage bullying as a way of getting attention," she said.

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Postby srinath » Sat Jun 10, 2006 12:19 am

Man that is so sad ...

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Postby Joey'smom » Sat Jun 10, 2006 12:22 am

This is absolutely one of my greatest fears about my son. He himself is beautiful - and friendly, and compliant - a prime target for monsters out there like this.

Homeschooling might also someday be the answer for us - or a smaller school where we know all the kids - never some public mega institution.
Joey, 10 yrs., PDD-NOS was our last dx
GFCF, Yasko, ABA
Hoping to get to RDI

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Postby BTDT » Sat Jun 10, 2006 9:00 am

She has seen autistic children "encourage bullying as a way of getting attention," she said.


I'll second that. :shock:

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Postby LittleManzParents » Sat Jun 10, 2006 9:07 am

Me 3. I had to read it twice to be sure I understood it the first time. I thought that surely a school administrator - even if dumb enough to believe it -- would be smart enough not to say it out loud -- especially under these circumstances.

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Postby MCA » Sat Jun 10, 2006 10:23 am

Not to deflect from the original post, which is horrifying and tragic, but that adminstrator statement just needs to be addressed.

Here, I'll help her out. I've got a good imagination.

How about,

"I have noticed that children on the autism spectrum, due to a lack of appropriate and intensive intervention on our part at a young age, lack awareness of social cues and the ability to recognize danger.

Due to this, and the fact we encourage an environment where children with differences are objectified as oddities rather than an environment of tolerance, sometimes children with autism do not realize that their desperate attempts to connect and make friends can attract predators.

We do not give these children proper supervision, because that goes above the "basic floor of opportunity" we are mandated to provide, so if one of these children with autism wanders into a bathroom, it is possible that a predatory child, or a group of them, could assault him.

It is our fault for not providing the child in question the proper social skills and social cues training to be able to interact properly or recognize danger, not providing the proper training on how to "report" bad events or giving them a safe avenue for reporting such, and for creating an atmosphere where the assault of such a child becomes a circus rather than a tragedy to the predatory children involved."

/Sounds better than She has seen autistic children "encourage bullying as a way of getting attention"

Yeah, rape victims were just asking for it.

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Postby mom_of_an_autie » Sat Jun 10, 2006 11:34 am

MCA I like your version much better.....yeah the little child with a lack of social skills and understanding of the sick twisted pervos in the world "asked for it"......

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