2007-10-19 / Front Page

Autistic 12-year-old Cuffed, Shackled At FR School

By Howard Schwach

AFar Rockaway father is charging that officials at a Far Rockaway Special Education school failed to notify police and EMS workers that his out-of-control son was autistic and had no communication skills, before they cuffed him and shackled him to a stretcher last week.

PS 253 on Central Avenue in Far Rockaway, where a 13-year-old autistic boy was handcuffed and shackled when he became agitated during a fire drill. PS 253 on Central Avenue in Far Rockaway, where a 13-year-old autistic boy was handcuffed and shackled when he became agitated during a fire drill. Alex Weston, whose 12-year-old son, Alexander, attends a District 75 Special Education school within PS 253 at 1307 Central Avenue in Far Rockaway, told The Wave that his son became agitated during a school-wide fire drill on October 18 and that he began to act out, not an unusual situation for the child, who is severely autistic and has no communication skills whatsoever.

He says that the school reacted by calling 911 and reporting his son as an "emotionally disturbed person."

When police and EMS ambulances responded to the school, Weston says, officials there failed to tell the workers about the boy's handicap.

He says that police just saw him as an out-of-control youth who needed to be restrained.

Alexander was handcuffed, shackled and strapped into a gurney for his ride to St. John's Episcopal Hospital, where he was kept in the restraints, Weston said.

"The entire experience was horrendous," Weston told The Wave. "My son's condition leads him to become upset when his routine is changed, as it was for the fire drill. The school knows that. They deal with many autistic kids. There was no reason for the police and ambulance people not to know about his condition. They didn't have to cuff him or shackle him."

Dina Paul Parks, a spokesperson for the Department of Education, tells a far different story, however.

While Parks admits that the young boy was restrained, she says that it was for his own good and the good of the people trying to help him.

"Alexander became aggressive and violent," she said. "School officials took him back into the building in an attempt to calm him down, but it didn't work. He attacked staff members and was in danger of harming himself and others. The police and EMS workers were fully aware of the fact that he is autistic, and they decided that he had to be restrained."

Weston says that when he got to the hospital, after an abrupt message left for him at home that they were taking his son to St. John's, it was clear that the people working on his son did not know that he was autistic.

He told them about his son's condition, he says, and they immediately removed the restraints and there were no further problems, but they kept his son there for a few hours of observation.

"I got to the emergency room [at St. John's Hospital] and I found my mentally incapable son handcuffed, bound and shackled to the bed," Weston said, still shaken by the ordeal. "He has no verbal skills. He couldn't tell them what was going on."

And, despite what the Department of Education says about the incident, Weston believes that the people in charge of the school should have handled the situation "in a more appropriate manner."

"This is a kid who can't talk for himself," he said. "There should have been somebody at the school to talk for him."

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