For children, especially those with developmental disabilities, neurological disorders, and other special needs, school should be a safe place. For several children with autism in North Florida, school became a place of physical, emotional, and for one autistic child, sexual abuse that went unreported.
New reports this week revealed allegations that teachers of special needs students in an Okaloosa County school subjected children in their care to horrible physical and emotional abuse. In another charge, a guidance counselor failed to report to authorities an allegation of sexual abuse.
The story revealed allegations that the special education teacher and two aides had been charged by Okaloosa County sheriff’s investigators for abusing the children with autism. It was alleged that the teacher and aides blew whistles in one child’s ears and locked several in darkened bathrooms.
According to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department, the abuse consisted of one of the alleged abusers holding the arms of a child while blowing a whistle into the child’s ears. The sheriff’s investigator said the three children were locked into a bathroom individually for up to an hour and a half with the lights off.
The three abused children were between ages 8 and 10 and were subjected to the abuse between September and November of last year.
According to Northwest Florida Daily News, the teacher surrendered this week to the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Department. She faces aggravated child abuse charges. The two aides had already surrendered on similar charges. The teacher and aides felt the practices were acceptable forms of child discipline.
In an unrelated case, authorities said the guidance counselor at another Okaloosa school was arrested and charged with failing to report to authorities allegations of sexual abuse made by a 5-year-old student.
Those familiar with children with autism or its effects know those with the disorder are highly sensitive to visual, aural, and other sensory stimuli or deprivation. So loud sounds, like that of a whistle, or being locked in a dark room, can cause extreme emotional distress on such children.
It’s unclear how the authorities became aware of the abuse. But if you suspect child abuse in a child’s home, school, or any other setting, the Florida Department of Children and Families’ Florida Abuse Hotline is available to professionally-mandated reporters, as well as the general public, as an avenue to report suspected cases of abuse, neglect, abandonment, or exploitation of children or vulnerable adults. Call toll free: 1-800-96-ABUSE, TTY 1-800-955-8771, or by fax at 1-800-914-0004.
You also can click here: http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/service-programs/abuse-hotline/