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National Autism Association (NAA) Says Vinegar-Soaked Cotton Balls in Disabled Students' Mouths Underscores Need for 'Aversives' Ban

Doc KATY, Texas, Sept. 27, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Monday night, in an effort to demonstrate inhumane practices known as "aversives" happening in special-ed classrooms across the county, school district officials in Texas were asked to insert vinegar-soaked cotton balls into their mouths. The request came from advocate and NAA board member Leslie Phillips following multiple reports from local parents who say their children attending Exley Elementary school in Katy were force-fed cotton balls soaked with vinegar as a form of discipline. "There were no takers to the request," said Phillips.

According to parents, Exley students, some of whom are nonverbal, were sometimes forced to get on a classroom treadmill, ostensibly there for exercise breaks and forced to go faster or longer than they wanted. In addition, cotton balls saturated with vinegar were placed into their mouths to control behavior. Parents say they were told certain "procedures" had been used on their children without their knowledge or consent, and the district would address the issue. Exley Elementary School Principal Imelda Medrano used only vague references, saying, "a treadmill was used" and "vinegar was introduced."

Parents Carol and Bill Rutar said they were dumbfounded to learn these strategies were not illegal. "If I were to attempt to force an adult to do something like this, I would be arrested and charged with assault and battery. Further, if this happened to a student in a general education setting, there would be public outrage. It's precisely the type of bullying behavior between students that is the focus of national attention and expressly prohibited," said Carol Rutar.

Parents still await information from the investigation, conducted by the district's own police department who has confirmed the matter has been handed over to the District Attorney.

Aversive interventions tantamount to child abuse are being used in many schools across the country. "Withholding food and water, lemon spray to the eyes, force feeding, sensory exploitation, shaving cream to the mouth, peppers to the mouth – these are just some of the assaults that have been used on schoolchildren as a failed means to control behavior," says Lori McIlwain, executive director of NAA. "Positive behavioral interventions have been proven successful, there is no excuse for aversives in our schools."

Phillips, who spoke with a Texas Education Agency official about the case, was told that while Texas is one of few states that regulates seclusion and restraint in public schools, "... there is no law that says aversive interventions are or are not legal in Texas."

The advocate hopes school principals nationwide will take positive action. "My message to principals is this: if aversive interventions are happening in your schools, you should act to stop it. Positive support training is needed, and law or no law, aversives are abusive and dehumanizing. They should be banned in your school."

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victor gutierrez

finally home schooled my severely disabled son and took him in a big rig for a year and a half. the other drivers wuld nod and acknowledge him as a human. he was happier than he had ever been. lived in several states, the problems are the same. unfortunately, he choked on a piece of cheese and died (in el paso,tx:4 minutes for a firetruck and 7 minutes for a paramedic,with no solid food suction machine). He is in a better place with God !!! Victor Gutierrez


From great grandmother, listen to me.

People, take you child out immediately if they are treated inhumanely. Tell as many people as you can until you get someone to take action. DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO ANY CHILD.

NO WAY should this happen to children. You must change his or her school to another or CHANGE THE SCHOOL. Keep up with what is happening in the classroom. Ask if you can help, go to meetings, talk to other parents, by all means, GET INVOLVED.

Some teachers are wack-o's.


I thank God for the teachers that my child has and has had. He has both Special Ed teachers and mainstream teachers. All treat him with respect and handle his needs according to his needs. He is treated as an individual, and with respect. He loves school. I wonder how the administrator would feel if his/her "typical" child was made to swallow vinegar or run on a treadmill. My heart goes out to these children, and I pray that they will get teachers who will make a positive difference in their lives.


I observed a parent kit her child in the classroom and this parent kept telling me to let her son scream because it is the only way he communicates.

While I was alone with her child he behaved better then when the mother was there for an hour.
Anyway, one day I told the mother that I could not control the children when she was there because while she was there it was crazy. The rest of the children would hear her son yell and scream and they would get nervous.

I went to the office and guess what. It was I who got a warning. The parent won, she lived in the getto, acted as if she was in the getto and controoled the classroom because administrators just can't be bothered.

I would never allow my child to be in that classroom. That parent didn't give her son a chance, nor did she allow others there to have peace when she was there.
What this teacher did is horrendous, but others such as parents also do harm.

It's not the getto thing that bothers me, it could have been any parent, it's just that she scared everyone with her gansta attitude and was allowed in the classroom with other children who were terrible effected by this parent.
This was not for me and it took me a while to say something, but glad I did even with a complaint for asking that did parent leave.

Victoria Frazier

I was a special education teacher for twenty five years. Our state had a Human Rights Commission who came with the Monitoring Review Board to look over behavior plans and question the teachers at any time they visited. It sickens me that this type of behavior is acceptable in any school. How could the administration not know that this was being done? Shame on them.


This is hard to stomach-it sickens me and brings back some scary school memories of my oldest child on the spectrum. He was denied food and drink by the "regular ed." teacher. That was an almost daily punishment. He would only be in her class for about 1 hour or so a day (he was in there to socialize with the "typical" kids.) She labled him as a behavior problem and would send him to the principal's office or to sit in the hallway alone. He wasn't that verbal and was a flight risk. AND ONLY 5 YEARS OLD!!! She would tell me that he couldn't join reading group with "the other students" because he would disturb them. She would complain to me that he didn't make eye contact with her. (????!!!) She also said that because he didn't bring up his milk money when told that his snack was either thrown in the garbage or sent back home. ( He never got his milk either and I never got my money returned to me) I started to write a check to ensure that he would get milk and snack but she did the same thing over and over. She walked out in the middle of an IEP meeting for my son. She is now the head Kindergarten teacher and highly regarded from other teachers. She gives seminars and her picture is in the paper all the time (R.I). Parents rave about her-(although never a parent with a special needs child).... Then along came my second child who had to have her because she was the only full-time Kindergarten teacher. She would insist that he played too many video games at home but we didn't own any and she didn't believe us. She pushed the medication issue so many times. He has low muscle tone and motor dysgraphia which causes him to have poor handwriting. She would write a big "X" on his papers and also write "SLOPPY" across the top in red marker. (He's been denied an IEP for 7 years straight because he scores well on tests) She made us do all of his school work with him at home. It would take hours. At the end of the school year, she said that he should be kept back a year because of his "behavior problems".....then along came my third child (on the spectrum)and they wanted him in her class for an hour or so at a time to "socialize" to which I responded "OVER MY DEAD BODY!!!!!!!" I think they got the point.


Thank God that Tennessee has an opt-out for Special Education services. We took advantage of the law and my son is in regular classes with qualified teachers. He does not need an special education program due to the fact the regular teachers and the students assist my son. He has so many friends instead of special education assistants. His friends include him in the classroom. The special education department only wanted to isolate and exclude him from the classroom at tax payer expense. We appreciate teachers who accept and teach every student and have given my son the opportunity for a meaningful education.

Heidi N

This is so beyond shocking that there are no words to describe this other than child abuse and endangerment charges need to be filed. Call social services and report this. PLEASE DO NOT RELY on the school district to take action. I have seen them ignore similar behaviors as if it's no big deal.


The school's Principal Imelda Medrano needs to resign.These
practices are abuses of the disabled students.It also sends
the wrong message to students that they can be abusive to the disabled,weaker members of society.Any school who has
these aversive practices must be investigated,reported and
stop this criminal activity immediately.I no longer wonder
why parents home school their children.Even the Principal
does not have the common sense.Horrific shame to all who
participates in these abusive activities.The parents need
demand safety for their disabled children.


Each child should have a known "calming down" comfort thing that stops meltdowns. With my son, I quickly learned he was calmed by trees and tree parts. In is IEP I wrote that when he started to melt down, take him outside and hand him a leaf, twig, piece of bark or simply let him hug a tree and he'd settle down instantly. It worked perfectly every time. Some kids it is vacuum cleaners, ceiling fans or dryers, so that is not so easily accomodated. Some prefer a pet. My son had one teacher that kept a therapy dog in her class, she said was for kids that needed a dog, but turns out the dog was really to calm herself, and she shared him with the students.

Jeannette Bishop

I wonder if they realize they are fighting fire with lighter fluid. Everyday life already so easily brings many aversives into our children's lives. I pray to have the insight to avoid doing something the same. I battle with myself over what should be expected of her "for her own good" when I see behaviors that would make it difficult for her to get along in life and with what she shouldn't have to "further endure" from expectations of the benefiting-from-the-greater-good-herd all the time. I think I'm trying to say I struggle to keep both fear and guilt from over-riding patience and persistence, and I think my daughter has frequently learned to manage herself herself, despite my best efforts, because it is important to her. My daughter wants to contribute and participate in life, and I shudder at the thought of such an environment attacking those desires.

Bob Moffitt

I had no idea that "inhumane practices" .. such as .. "forcing verbal as well as nonverbal students to get on a classroom treadmill and forced to go faster and longer than students wanted, placing cotton balls saturated with vinegar into their mouths, withholding food and water, lemon spray to the eyes, force feeding, sensory exploitation, shaving cream to the mouth, peppers to the mouth" .. were called "aversives"?

After all .. these inhumane practices appear no different than what were labeled "torture" in Iraq's infamous Abu Ghraib.

Indeed, the only difference are the laws that prohibit inhumane abuse of Abu Grahib prisoners in Iraq .. while at the same time .. there are no laws to prohibit the equally inhumane "aversive" abuse of special education students in Exley Elementary school in Katy, Texas.

Kendra Pettengill

We found out, after I pulled my child from early intervention for "other" reasons that they were using restraints on 3 and 4 year old simply because "they wouldn't sit still for circle time". Now there is a life and death crisis, sitting still for circle time. So they strapped them to their chairs including their little arms to the arms of the chair so they could not undue the restraints around their little chests. The list continues to grow of things we need to organize around and protest. As parents we seem to be the only ones that care, and while yes if parents of neurotypical children found these things were being done to their children there would be jail time and lawsuits, but those same parents raise no more than an eyebrow when they hear of abuses against autistic children. It is prejudice, pure and simple and treating innocent children worse than animals. Animals have advocates looking out for their welfare, our children just have us, everyone else may cringe for a moment, thank their lucky stars it's not them or their children and then quietly get on with their lives. Our children are being assaulted from every angle, medically, educationally, denied insurance coverage, removed by children's services to be drugged against our wishes, and yes tortured and abused by those claiming to have their best interests at heart. LOL. But hey, just remember these kids have always been here, we just didn't notice them before, so everything will all work out I am sure.

Not an MD

When I think of a child with autism having his/her mouth stuffed with vinegar soaked cotton balls, I could vomit, myself. I picture my son with his oral sensory issues, and how he can gag on a single grain of rice as he hates the texture of rice. How can school officials dehumanize our children this way and get away with it? These horrid special ed teachers and school administrators (including Principal Imelda Medrano) should be forcefully subjected to the same treatment in public by police officers and be videotaped during their experience. The videos should be posted on the internet. This is the only acceptable punishment for what is truly a disgraceful crime against the innocent.

Robert Hutchins

I wrote the school board as well as the district's Risk Manager. This is ridiculous and should have never happened. I also twittered the article to my state rep and will follow up with him. We need to make this kind of stuff illegal and punishable by criminal law. I encourage everyone who is in Texas to write their state rep and press this.

Robert Hutchins
Texas Autism, Inc.


This is breaking my heart. As a mother of two on the spectrum, it just gives me more reason to want to homeschool them. I don't understand how these people aren't all fired and in jail right now.


Mine is out of school now, at home, with perhaps employment coming, perhaps not - I am scared witless that the abuse is probably just beginning.

John Stone


I think this is actually a brilliant idea that there should actually be an extra penalty for abusing the rights of people who may be physically or mentally unable to stand up for themselves.

Mind you, it should presently be very easy to find and employ suitable people for the care and support of the disabled (given funding) but as Jake says elsewhere 'the fish rots from the head'.



I have a non-verbal autistic child and this is my worst fear. That my child can be exploited and is not able to stand up for himself. I am sick to my stomach about this and so outraged right now. I live in Texas and I am lucky enough to be able to have my child in a wonderful private ABA school run by a mother of an autistic child. No parent should have to worry about these kinds of things happening to there children no less by a teacher who should be there to protect them and be looking out for their best interest.

victor pavlovic

The penalty needs to be double in this case, for abusing disabled and non-verbal children. What kind of people are they hiring? All teachers everywhere should be trained to deal with these children, at least a yearly review.


Horrifying. Utterly horrifying. Those poor kids....

Taxpayers fund schools for their educational expertise, not for their staff's attempts to induce vomiting, choking and cardiac arrest in vulnerable nonverbal little elementary-age children.

I'd say that these torturers were half-witted, but that would be too generous. This is absolute idiocy. Let the punishment fit the crime.


Good luck with these efforts. Many of the top private ABA schools in the country use these techniques, including several of the very elite ones in New Jersey (costing 100K a year, populated by the children of CEOs, and with waiting lists of hundreds). Of course it is kept very quiet and no one tells you this during the admissions process. It is justified on the basis of its efficacy, which is never backed up by anything other than anecdote.

John Stone

I despair of my own country but this would not be legal in the UK.

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