Monday, October 24, 2011


by Dr. Ron Unruh

The blog title seems to be an apparent leap in logic that parents of autistic children are making but it is entirely reasonable. If nine year old Ayn can be removed from her daddy whom she loves, other children who may wander from home or display bizarre behaviour in a public venue can similarly risk removal from their parental homes. That is what is concerning parents of autistic children and members of autism societies and support groups and research organizations.

Ayn’s case is typical of so many family situations in which disabled children have not been neglected or abused by their caregiving parents but after cursory investigation, government agencies have jumped to the default protection option – take the child away.

Derek calls his daughter Ayn an amazing work in progress, a young girl who can appreciate baking and music and photography. She is an affectionate child with her dad and her two brothers, one of whom is also autistic. She does communicate albeit with challenges. Her in-school experience has been burdened with lack of educational resources for a person with her condition. A house re-location placed her in a new school with activities that accommodate disabilities such as Ayn’s. While Ayn was adjusting to this new welcoming environment, she still became aggressive and lashed out and put fellow students at some risk. This led to isolation procedures and a safety plan concerning her.
Then in August of 2010 in the hopes that a new city might provide a new beginning for Ayn, Derek moved his family to a different home and city which introduced to Ayn a new school. In that school a small personal room was constructed within a classroom which provided separation from the school population. She still experienced days of severe agitation. This resulted in Ayn’s care team, of which an MCFD representative was a member, designed a four-tiered behavioural ‘safety plan.’ There were different levels of intervention that were applicable when Ayn was observed to be violent and perhaps prone to self-injury. An aspect of the intervention was a calm down area constructed within her little room that was dressed with gym mat padding to prevent her from hurting herself. She was given a blanket and music and a rocking chair with which to calm herself as part of this strategy but it proved to be ineffective. Her aggression did not subdue but escalated.

The care team began reviewing a possibility that Ayn’s aggressive outbursts may have a dual diagnosis but Derek rejected this proposition. Derek believed that the ‘safety plan’ had informed Ayn that she could manipulate the administrators. His contention was that since she did not behave this way at home, it was the school environment that provoked this behaviour, and the calming strategy was a contributing factor. So whatever progress was being made at home to modify Ayn’s behaviour through loving relationships was not consistent with the techniques employed at school.

The school did not agree with Derek.

Derek had some prior interaction with MCFD. The earliest occurred several years ago, involving his oldest son who is a neurotypical child, whereas Ayn and he middle brother are autistic. This boy lost his kitten and was given permission by Derek to look though the neighbourhood and cross certain streets. His son crossed one that had not been permitted and made a pay phone call to 911 to announce his lost cat. Two days later, CPS came to Derek’s door alleging that the boy had abused the emergency service system and that he was ill-supervised. Nothing more came of this but a couple of years later the same boy was playing in a local park but was unsupervised. Somehow CPS was notified and then demanded to know why Derek allowed this. Derek’s explanation was that he had two disabled children whose care he and to prioritize and he did not want to place his oldest normal child under virtual house arrest. The boy was then nine years of age and Derek was informed that the ‘community standard’ does not permit a young child to play unsupervised in the park. Whether Derek knowing what he now knows, would now reconsider his response if faced with the same issue is unknown, but his passion for civil rights at the time found expression by his assertion that the Charter of Rights surely supersedes the ‘community standard’ and the Charter allows people to freely move about. Derek wanted to voice record this interaction but the CPS representative refused and left. In that earlier altercation, CPS returned weeks later and demanded that he undergo a risk assessment which he did and he heard nothing more, and therefore assumed he had passed. This was the start of the adversarial relationship that has most recently culminated in the apprehension of his daughter Ayn.

You can read some extensive coverage of this story well written by San Pedro Special Education Examiner Carrie Russo, and published by on August 2-9, 2011
Part One :
Part Two :
Part Three :

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