An interview with the mom of 10-year old autistic boy who was arrested at his school

John and Luanne

In October returning from a suspension from kicking a teacher, John Benjamin told his mom, “I don’t want to go back to school—I don’t like working with my paraprofessional. He pinches me hard, driving his nails into me and treats me like I am a little kid.”

A few weeks ago a news story about a 10-year old being arrested at his school went viral. The boy’s mother told The Washington Post their presence at her son’s school was requested so John could participate in standardized testing. Instead, he was charged with third-degree felony battery on a school employee. The boy’s mom videotaped on her phone the incident which included her son John Benjamin being taken away by police officers in handcuffs.

Here’s the backstory.

By Ron Sandison

Luanne Haygood noticed her son John Benjamin’s development was different from her other four children. He seemed to enjoy being alone and did not cry at 8 weeks old when left in his bassinet. John also displayed limited eye contact. Unlike typical babies he was not demanding. At 18 months when most toddlers could speak 15 to 20 words—John could pronounce only 2. The pediatrician dismissed his lack of communication stating, “The other four siblings probably speak for John so he does not need to talk.”

John had difficulty engaging in play — hitting and scratching his playmates. At age eight, John was diagnosed with autism.

“John Benjamin is an amazing son. He is polite, loves bike riding, fishing, lawn machines, complex puzzles, and working with his hands. As a toddler he would build detailed Lego cities and designed cool towers,” Luanne shares.

Academics and socials skills were John’s toughest challenge. “John’s behavioral issues cease when he is engaged properly by caring professionals who are able to relate with him as a person and he is taught by methods that relate to his learning style, enabling him to comprehend information,” Luanne shares.

In October returning from a suspension from kicking a teacher, John told his mom, “I don’t want to go back to school—I don’t like working with my paraprofessional. He pinches me hard, driving his nails into me and treats me like I am a little kid.”

Luanne and John’s dad noticed a regression in John’s behavioral since this paraprofessional had been assigned. He began throwing paper in class, displaying other disruptive behaviors, and was agitated. John’s parents requested for him to be assigned a different paraprofessional but the school refused.

John’s dad told the paraprofessional, “You better never touch or pinch my son again!”

school room

The next day the paraprofessional lead John to a room with only a table, no other students, and a stack of homework. John replied, “I want to be with my friends and not locked in this room.”

The paraprofessional stated, “You’re not in charge, I am, you will do what your told!” grasping John’s arm tightly and pinching deep his nails into his soft tissue.

John experienced a meltdown, kicking and screaming, as the paraprofessional tried to force him into the “timeout room” which the children called “The Hole.” This resulted in John expelsion for the final 5 months. He was forced to complete his schoolwork from home.

On April 12th returning from his expulsion to Okeechobee Alternative Academy for Florida Standards Assessment testing, police arrested him. As the cops handcuffed John, he cried out to his mom in terror, “I don’t understand! I did nothing wrong, why are they arresting me?”

The officers refused to show Luanne the warrant or reveal why he was being arrested.

John used his coping skills, telling the officers, “I don’t like being touched.”

“My son has autism. Can I please go with him?” Luanne pleaded.

Luanne recorded on her iPhone the arrest and posted it on Facebook bringing national headlines. John spent the night in a juvenile detention and on May 11th will be arraigned for felony battery on a school board authority.

“I was extremely angry. I felt like this was a power play. I felt like this was a this is what you get. You can’t do anything about it. We’re going to arrest your son if he can’t abide by the rules,” Luanne told CBS Miami.

When I posted on attorney Gary Mayerson’s Facebook John’s story, Natalie Brandefine, Program Director at Happy Hour 4 Kids commented, “This is never the answer. However, not many programs are willing to work through aggression with children? I have never even called a parent to pick their child up never mind the police. It is my job to help that child. John’s aggression is a behavior and all behaviors are forms of communication. What was John trying to communicate? Did any ask? This is so upsetting.”

Gary Mayerson has come to the defense of John Benjamin and is helping Luanne with his case.

The weakest voice deserves the greatest defense.

***

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of American. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com

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