A Keynesian Look at Autism
Welcome Adriana Gamondes

And So the Anger Against Autism Begins

CardboardboxManaging Editor's Note: I'm noticing a trend in articles about autism, like the one below in the LA Times" of condescension and dismissal.

Look at the words of this psych expert below, 'children with autism "know how to push every button known to God,"'. Roll that around your brain for a moment. There are times when I haven't been sure my kids know what their mouths are for - honest to God - and an expert is accusing our kids of "pushing buttons" as some kind of excuse for placing a child in a box as punishment? The fact that the child often seeks a quiet space on his own doesn't excuse using his safe place as a punishment. Imagine if a professional said, " Yeah, those cancer patients with their constant puking, they sure know how to push buttons, don't they?  And those dippy peanut allergy kids all anaphylactic shocky and wheezey? Real pains in the ass."  

I've been accused of not loving or respecting my kids the way the are because I want to (eyes darting left and right) "cure" them of their autism. Fact is, the world is going to start hating people with autism because of the lack of medical attention to treatment, the acceptance movement that has done precious little  to make our kids more acceptable and the COST to society. You start affecting someone's pocketbook, they take notice.  People are already pissed off and stressed out about their dwindling finances. Now ask them to pay a couple of million over the lifetime of a person with autism and see what happens.

I don't believe our kids should have carte blanche to interrupt a classroom, especially if mainstreamed.  But the anger toward kids who are on the spectrum horrifies me. Read the comment thread on the article. It's nauseating. 

I noticed similar comments about TJ Lane, the boy who murdered three students in Chardon, Ohio a rural suburb of Cleveland. TJ attended Lake Academy, "an alternative education program offering a unique approach to formal education for students who are experiencing serious challenges in meeting expectations within traditional school settings. Many of the students attending The Lake Academy are considered “reluctant learners” and may be struggling with a variety of individual problems, such as: substance abuse /chemical dependency, anger issues, mental health issues, truancy, delinquency, difficulties with attention/organization, and academic deficiencies."  Commenters in Cleveland are asking why a boy who had to attend a "special" school was even allowed to step foot in a public school.  I understand the anger toward him and make no excuses for his actions.  But the call to segregate/remove students who are different could easily capture many of our own kids (who are not violent or severely mentally ill) making them pariahs in education and by logical assumption, the workplace that follows school.  

I anticipate a very rough future for our loved ones.

I started karate classes last Fall. It's supposed to make me a bit more zen than my usual type A self.  Part of our code states, "I shall not use my skills outside of the dojo except in the most extreme circumstances." I look at what's happening to kids on the spectrum and I ask, "Define extreme..."

When Kim Rollins' son asked for a pair of scissors to take to school a few weeks ago, she was heartened that the fourth-grader, diagnosed with an autism-related disorder, was excited by a class project.

No, Sage Rollins explained, he didn't need the scissors for a project. He wanted them so he could cut a window in the cardboard box his teacher sent him to sit in.

Sage, 10, told her that his teacher at Ronald Reagan Elementary School, in the southwest Riverside County community of Wildomar, sent him into the box when she became upset with him. Before that, she forced him to sit in a darkened supply closet, according to Rollins.

"I was outraged. I was insulted," Rollins said from her home in Wildomar, near Lake Elsinore. "I cried when I heard.

School principal Nori Chandler told a Riverside County Sheriff's Department investigator last month that Sage went into a closet on his own, when he wanted "quiet time," and was never sent by the teacher. Sage also told the deputy he went on his own when he needed a quiet place.

The principal told the investigator that a district counselor provided a "decorated large cardboard box" for Sage that was placed in the back of the class, to provide a refuge for him when he had sensory overload, according to the investigative report, a copy of which Rollins gave The Times.

The box, about the size of a large television, was turned on its side, allowing Sage to use the open flaps as a door.

The deputy who investigated the allegations "failed to find any evidence of criminal wrongdoing," and the case has been closed, said Deputy Joshua Morales, a spokesman for the Sheriff's Department. The investigator's report said there did not appear to be any intent by any school employee to mistreat or abuse Sage.

Although she taught Sage in a mainstream classroom, Sabrina Beth MacFarlane has a state education specialist credential for working with special needs students. She has been placed on paid administrative leave by the Lake Elsinore Unified School District and was not available for comment.

"Appropriate personnel action has been taken, and the matter is under investigation," said district spokesman Mark Dennis. "We're taking this matter very seriously."

Rollins' attorney filed an administrative legal claim against the district and the teacher, a likely precursor to a lawsuit. The claim alleges that the isolation was involuntary, punitive and caused other fellow students to ridicule her son.

Using isolation as a punishment for a child with autism-related disorders not only is wrong, it is ineffective, said Ron Leaf of Autism Partnership in Seal Beach, which consults with school districts about teaching children with the disorders.

If the child knows that by acting out, he or she will be given a time out, the child may misbehave intentionally to avoid a stressful situation, such as a challenging lesson or participation in an activity, he said.

"What happened there is wrong in every which way," Leaf said.

Rollins said her son told her that the teacher had sent him to the closet or box for "time outs or when she was mad." She also said that her son went into the closet or box on his own as well.

"If he can get away from the person who is creating a meltdown for him, he would run and hide in the dryer," Rollins said, not being literal. "So the fact that he thinks the closet is a good thing, it means nothing to me."

Clinical psychologist B.J. Freeman, an autism expert at the UCLA School of Medicine, said children with autism "know how to push every button known to God," making it crucial that teachers have the temperament and training necessary to instruct students. That's especially important when students with special needs are placed in a mainstream classroom, Freeman said.

Read the full story and comment thread at The LA Times.

House of Cards 200 pixelsKim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism. Her new novel,  House of Cards; A All I Can Handle 50 pixel Kat Cavicchio romantic suspense is available from Amazon in all e-formats now. Her memoir, All I Can Handle I'm No Mother Teresa is available in hardcover, paperback and e-book.





My son used to get into trouble for "refusing" to put his books under the chair. I had to explain to his teacher that his verbal skills are several years behind, and if you would read his file, you could easily see that he doesn't understand prepositions yet! I think Autism parents hear that one a lot - "Your child is REFUSING to do something" - when he is just actually unable to do it!

T Murphy

Context is everything. My autistic son would benefit from being able to get into a box or closet, or whatever when he is having a meltdown, and a good perceptive teacher would know when to SUGGEST that he might want to get into that box. That is all to everyone's benefit. The teacher that wants to put him the box because he is disrupting the rest of the class or not listening or not doing what he is supposed to be doing, that's a different story. And you know, both can be happening in that classroom.


See how the school department tries to "save its own ass" by saying that he liked the box and went in there on his own? We all know he was put there for punishment and for probably minor issues relating to his disability. My son with Autism who wasn't very verbal back in Kindergarten was supposed to "hand in" his milk money at snack time to the (reg. Ed)teacher. (He was in that classroom for an hour a day in hopes of mainstreaming and for "socialization"....yeah, right) Anyway when he didn't hand in his milk money, she would punish him by not letting him have milk or snack (even though he brought his own). (and sadly,many other punishments) Socially, he wasn't yet able to walk up to her desk by himself. (and yes, he had an assistant with him) While, I tried to explain this to her, she said he wasn't giving her eye contact, either LOL. So, of course, I filed a complaint with The RI Dept. of Ed. Special Populations and to this day, she is teaching-She is the Head Teacher to be exact. My youngest is in Kindergarten right now and I stated that "Over my DEAD BODY" will he be allowed in her room. Also, I recently was denied services by United Health for home-based services for my son. They say that my husband's employer did not purchase the "Autism Clause" for our coverage. Can anyone help me with this? Has anyone experienced something similiar with United Health? I called the Appeals Department and I was told by United to do research on RI laws concerning Autism coverage-But isn't that their job?


I can't even bring myself to read the comments on the article. I know what they will say and it will just make my head explode. This child deserves a better teacher. As do the students at UCLA Medical School who unwittingly relied on this old windbag BJ Freeman for their education in autism. Center of Excellence my achin arse!


In 5th grade My son was continually put in a locked time out room. The size of a medium walk in closet. He was supposed to be having sensory breaks but the abrasive teacher would put him in the time out room. He showed obvious signs of not feeling comfortable with the bright light in the time out room, but the teacher choose to have a power struggle with him over turning the lights off. He has autism and should have been in a resource room but he was stuck in the Ed program and this was how they dealt with his sensory issues....by locking him up. Towards the end of school when his behavior had regressed so much the teacher (unknown to me) let a police officer tell my son that he had one more chance and then it was juvy for him. That night while watching my son, rocking and pulling apart legos in his pee stained bedroom floor, I thought to myself if he was a NT kid showing these behaviors I would be asking myself if he was being abused. I got in bed and rubbed his back as I sang to him because by this time we had hellish nights full of meltdowns and fear as we watched our sons behavior spiral out of control. His five suicide attempts from November to April still leaving us shocked and sickened. As I sang Kum ba yah to him and came to the line, someones crying my Lord, my son said, 'Mom, it's me isn't it'. I said, moms crying too. Then his body started shaking as he told me they were going to take him away from us. He said mom they are going to have to cut my arms off to get me away from you. That night we told him he was never going back to that school. Our family has been slowly healing. Moving to another state has given our son a fresh start, thankfully on-line school has helped him to gain confidence in learning without all the sensory issues and now, in 7th grade, he seems to have to courage to grow in ways we never imagined. And to think, two years ago his therapist kept telling me we just had to accept this behavior and he would never grow beyond this, thankfully I knew who my son was before the teacher hurt him...and I kept reminding him of that boy. He got knocked down, but he got up again!

Sue Morgan

Shrinks and "mental health professionals" are the sickest in the bunch. That is why they work in mental health. They need help more than any of the rest of us. Yet courts and school districts defer to their enormous "wisdom" all the time. Hence the new, totally unimproved DSM5.


that comment about button pushing was disgusting. People w ho think like that need to not work with our kids or any children for that matter. One wonders what they would do to those button pushing infants in a day care screaming for a bottle or diaper change. Maybe put them in a box until they whimper rather than scream. Just disgusting.


I was told (by my son's carer), that he knew how to push her buttons. Although he is non-verbal,PDD, Autistic...apparently he is very good at mind games and being able to manipulate everybody to get his own way.WOW!

This comment is from the same carer that I witnessed physically restraining my son. She is now doing other duties.

Elizabeth Gillespie

Linda Higgins

Of course Sage's mom cried, I had tears in my eyes when reading this story.

And to buttons - kids are great at pushing buttons - not kids with autism, not kids with speech disorders, not kids that whatever - KIDS are pretty intuitive and can push our buttons. It is our job to manage how we react to that pushing and to avoid blaming a medical condition for that behavior. Now how would it sound if they said "kids in wheelchairs" are great at pushing buttons? I'm sure kids in wheelchairs are no less adept at pushing buttons than our kiddos with autism or our kiddos with no diagnoses.

Birgit Calhoun

There are people who expect the norm, and when things fall out of the norm they reject it because it doesn't fit into their world view.

There seems to be security in viewing everything outside the norm as a just punishment from God. It fits into a naive belief-system that, if it's out of the norm, it must be corrected.

People also try to remove themselves from someone who is "different". I heard once from a soccer parent that "he couldn't be friends with me because I had "that" child [my son Erik]."

It is especially directed towards powerless kids. It imbues those who subscribe to that kind of thinking with a sense of superiority, but also fear.

Having lived with a person who has been treated that way for 40 years, I have learned that someone who treats others that way is basically very insecure. This insecurity comes from a great fear of the "other." It's the denial that the "other" exists.

The question is: How can one change a person who lacks the knowledge it takes to know better? We live in a"harsh country," I was told yesterday.


"children with autism know how to push every button known to God." You got it, Kim. That is one messed up statement! Honestly, the teachers and aides that I know mostly take the attitude (say when a child expresses frustration and screams or has a meltdown) that it gives us information about how that child is feeling: we can develop some theories about what the issue is and go from there. At least it communicates something rather than the child just being passive. THose people shouldn't be working with kids.


I know what Kim is talking about!
Psychs have always been the thorn in my side, very wordy with big words - so I am surprised they revert back to something like pushing buttons.

But the box; I am going to disagree== I think it was a good idea.
That was beyond cute that it wanted a pair of scissors to cut itself out a window!

I was a spoiled little girl. I had my own mother as a second grade teacher! She was also the favorite teacher in the whole school.

Boxes is what kids liked and so she got big boxes together in the back of her room and made a threater for a puppet shows.

Perhaps this teacher should have taken it a step further and made the box - to be used by everyone at any given time; but esp for this small tot????


A shrink should be smart enough (again should be) to know that a button can only be there to push if presented.

So maybe the problem isn't the button pusher but rather the button presenter? Or at least meet half way and accept some responsibility in a stimulus/response situation.

Terri Lewis

Kim Davis, you are right. What we have in our favor--sadly--is the huge number of us. Spread truth and light when you can. Lots of us are in for a very hard time, but the younger generation (about 20% to 40% from what I can figure)--has caught on. They are refusing the vaccination "schedule" in droves. There are still GMO foods to contend with, pre-natal pollution in many forms (air pollution, mercury tooth fillings, etc.) but the under-30 crowd has either experienced it for themselves, seen it in friends and/or siblings, and a good many of them WON'T be fooled again. I like to "crow" about The Canary Party, and all the good work they're doing; there are many of us and many actions we can take to better things for ourselves, each other, and those who will follow us.

Carolyn S.

pushing every button known to god sounds like the teacher last year in my sons 4 year old classroom . She was convinced that one of them was purposely laughing at her and his behavior was intentional, at age 4 with the functioning level of a 2 year old tops. I hear she retired early this year after many parental complaints. Articles like these make me sad and fear what will come in the years ahead.

Kim Davis

Let's face it, any parent with an autistic child knows that some professionals "get it" and some never, in a million years, will.

The training a person receives is secondary to their personality. Those who are rigid (like some of our kids) just aren't a good fit. Those who are accepting of others differences and willing to do whatever to help our kids flourish are. In other words, the jerk who said our kids could push all of his buttons probably isn't suffering from burn out so much as he's suffering from being a controlling, uptight jerk who should never, ever work with, consult about, or advise children with autism or their parents.

It seems hopeless because our kids are up against so much already and now we have to be sure the professionals who work with them are the right personality match.

What we do have in our favor is numbers. Vote with your feet parents. If someone your child is working with seems uptight or just doesn't get it, vote with your feet and find someone who does get it.

Son in Recovery

Yea - my son's ASD teacher told me that my son always knew how to push his buttons. I pushed back - if this is true then my son has Theory of Mind... which all the experts tell us our kids don't have! "Theory of Mind - The ability to attribute mental states—beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one’s own." I feel fortunate to live in Michigan where most school districts are required to implement START training. The focus of the START Project has become systems level change implemented by school staff and administrators willing to commit to using effective practices in the areas of educational programming for students with ASD, professional development, parent-professional collaboration, and cross-county collaboration. My sister when through this training and it focuses on making each and every situation through out kids day comfortable. If the child is having a difficult time, then there needs to be an adjustment in the child's environment. (Which does not mean put them in the closet!) It means redirecting and addressing what may be the core issue of the situation. With the autism numbers on the rise, it just makes me feel as if it's going to get real ugly. We need to circle our wagons and protect our kids and families from this type of thinking and potential abuse from educators.

Donna L.

Amen, Kim. Public comments on autism ten or even five years ago used to be tempered with remarks like "It's so sad" or "I hope they find a cure". Now, the majority of comments are just statements of blatant hatred and disgust. I can't even imagine what it will be like in another ten years.

So there's the Herd, folks. The very same Herd we sacrificed our children's lives for. Anyone else feel like throwing up?

Alison MacNeil

'children with autism "know how to push every button known to God,"' - someone needs a break and maybe a career change. That kind of comment is a sign of burn out and I don't think anyone carrying that kind of stifled rage about our kids should be allowed near them. Too bad they are working at UCLA in the AUTISM program. Recipe for a negative situation in the making that is - and the child will be the one that suffers.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)