I'm writing this blog entry about that last one. You see, the school district's defense is apparently going to be something along the lines of the argument that the incident didn't hurt Alex... because autistic children can't understand -- or be hurt by -- "negative social feedback" (or, in other words, someone else doing something nasty to them).
No, I'm not joking.
After going through quite a bit of trouble, I've managed to obtain some of the documents that the district's submitted in their defense. Specifically, I've obtained the "expert testimony" that they commissioned from two doctors: Dr. Sue Antell and Dr. Max Wiznitzer.
These are quotes from public documents available on PACER, albeit not for free. I had to jump through a lot of hoops to get them (although, admittedly, most of these were technical -- I didn't bring a memory card with me when I went to visit my school's law library, the law library's one computer set up for PACER access was an antiquated technical nightmare, and I didn't want to unnecessarily spend money to get the documents from my home system), but they're still technically public domain. As such, I've uploaded them to RapidShare to cut down on the metaphorical red tape. Feel free to host them elsewhere.
I'm not going to comment over-much on them. I'm going to let what they wrote speak for themselves. I will, however, clarify a bit on both.
To start off with, there's this section of Dr. Antell's testimony -- delivered before she ever met or examined Alex (whose full name is Caleb Alex Barton, although he does not respond to "Caleb"):
... Based upon this review, it is my opinion that CAB probably does have Autism, a disorder of language, executive functioning and social relatedness, which profoundly impacts upon how a child perceives and reacts to the language and behavior of other people.Two clarifications: "The events described" were the vote-out incident. The same is true of "the events of 5-21-08".
It is further my opinion that the events described would not be expected to have any long term impact even upon a typical child who might appreciate more of what was going on around him. As they grow up, children experience numerous negative or unpleasant experiences with peers, teachers and parents. Such experiences are part of the normal experience of development. They serve to help a child develop an appreciation for the impact of his behavior on others in his world, and are important in the development of sympathy, empathy, and altruism. This is quite different from the constant and chronic bullying which we unfortunately see somewhat among older children, or the chronic systematic emotional abuse of a child by the adults in his life. In any child with Autism, such experiences are going to be processed quite differently. Depending on the extent of the pragmatic language dysfunction, the lack of social relatedness, and the impairment in the ability to appreciate another's point of view (what psychologists call "Theory of Mind") it is quite likely that many, if not most children with autism would simply have no emotional connection to such events. While they might encode and recall the "script" (i.e. the language used and the actual events), their ability to be emotionally impacted by what is almost entirely a language based experience would be anticipated to be exceedingly limited. This is not to imply that Autistic children cannot experience trauma. Rather it attempts to distinguish between possibly unpleasant events which are the result of linguistic exchanges from more primitive responses which might involve non verbal actions, or verbal communications which would produce feelings of fear or terror which are generated by non cortical brain regions.
Beyond this, we have the opinion of a qualified child psychiatrist that CAB suffered no emotional distress as a result of this incident, and another who described behavior with autism but not PTSD.
Based on the foregoing, it is my opinion to a reasonable degree of neuropsychological probability that CAB has not demonstrated any real evidence of emotional distress as a consequence of the events of 5-21-08. It is further my impression that he does not require any ongoing treatment, and depending on his ability to appreciate what is happening in such therapy, that this poses a risk of creating a trauma where none actually exists.
And then there's Wiznitzer's testimony:
In summary, Caleb Barton is an 8 year old boy with a diagnosis of an autism spectrum disorder (Asperger disorder) and behavioral features labeled as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (including compatible rating scales). He has a history of challenging behaviors in kindergarten with no details of his behavioral functioning since that time (except for the report of Dr. Coleman). School records document impairment in social interaction with peers (supported by psychiatric evaluations). Assuming that his diagnoses are accurate, it would be difficult for a child with a significant impairment in socialization (compounded by the social issues associated with ADHD) to fully process and comprehend the impact of negative social feedback from peers (as stated by Dr. LoSardo "on some level he probably didn't get social significance"). Therefore, this type of event would not be expected to result in PTSD.
Dr. Wiznitzer's testimony is nowhere near as bad as Dr. Antell's... but really.
To the St. Lucie County school board, however, I have only one thing to say.