No Common Criminal

I have Google Alerts set for lots of things, one is “autism.” It ends up being too wide a topic; the stories too numerous. One caught my eye, not in a good way, and dovetails into a recent post on Nate’s High School Journal entries.

In Talk About Patience!, I quoted Nate as he wrote about hitting his gym teachers with a dodge ball, and telling another teacher “I’m going to kill you.” There’s another Nate story, one he didn’t write about, when he locked the bio teacher out of the lab room because that teacher didn’t like Nate using the computer. Nate logically concluded that the problem was not his conduct, but the incessant negativity of his teacher. So he locked the classroom door. His teacher was upset, very, because in the lab were chemicals, burners and various other dangerous items that Nate had absolutely no interest in.

For all Nate’s peccadilloes, he never suffered more than being sent to the Principal’s office. Everyone at school knew Nate, knew what he could control and what he couldn’t, knew, too, that bad behavior was to be dealt with in an appropriate way.

So I was shocked to read a story brough to me via Google Alerts, called “Autistic teen charged in alleged teacher attack.” (I’ll put a link at the end).

A 13-year old autistic boy’s speech therapist of two years filed felony charges against him for hitting her with headphones, so hard, she said, that “it felt that my skull cracked.” Understood. I have been on the receiving end of Nate attacks that were pretty painful. And I empathize with her situation and the shock of having someone you’ve devoted yourself to turn on you so violently. Again, been there.

But pressing charges, third degree felony charges for assaulting a public (or private) education employee? After years devoid of a single incident?

I couldn’t quite believe it. I know what Nate’s support people put up with over time and what they shrugged off. Even now, with Elise, there are times when Nate lashes out and she, though hurt emotionally and physically, sucks it up and ends up feeling apologetic for him.

What shook me up is, from a parenting standpoint, the idea that someone counted on to know the child, maybe your child, could turn on him in such a grievous way. That’s not to excuse the boy’s tantrum. We’ve never let Nate slide on any bit of bad behavior. He is told what is right and expected, sometimes punished, and always made to apologize to the wounded person. He doesn’t need prompting any more; he knows now when he crosses the line and his quick turn from pitching a fit to asking for forgiveness is wonderful and shows how, even when he acts out beyond his control, he immediately grasps the error and seeks to make it better. That’s maturity.

I’m thankful, after reading this woeful bit of news, for all the people who have struggled along with Nate. You all know who you are. Thanks for not sending him to jail, even when, by law, he may have deserved it.



About Jeff Katz

Jeff Katz is Mayor of Cooperstown, the “Birthplace of Baseball” and home to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book, Split Season:1981 - Fernandomania, the Bronx Zoo, and the Strike that Saved Baseball, (Thomas Dunne Books, 2015), received national attention, with coverage appearing in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Sporting News and NPR’s Only a Game, among others. Katz appeared on ESPN’s Olbermann and The Sporting Life with Jeremy Schaap and MLB Network’s MLB Now, with Brian Kenny. Split Season: 1981 was a finalist for the 2016 Casey Award for Best Baseball Book of the Year.
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4 Responses to No Common Criminal

  1. This breaks my heart. Jakin, 7yo, once slammed his end of a foldable slide into his Speech Therapist hand. She was cut pretty badly but luckily didn’t need stitches. She turned to him with tears and said simply, “Jakin that really hurt. You will need to apologize before we have any more sessions.” He has had numerous instances at therapy and school where he has physically hurts someone with intention to solve problems his way when ‘their’ way didn’t work. This is something I fear and we talk about openly for when he old enough to be charged with something. But, you are right. Parenting does have a huge impact on the child no matter their mental state. At our therapy building there is one mother who is on everyone’s radar. The way she handles her children, the staff, even the by-standards makes me say a little prayer for her children. Just an example her boys came to investigate our baby. We were talking to him and he wasn’t acting in any way to hurt the baby. However when he went to touch the baby’s face I told him quietly to not touch his eyes or mouth. His mother came over yanked him away, screamed at him, then threw the car he had. The car hit our baby and luckily the only damage done was a cranky baby. We only hope those who are trying to help them make a breakthrough because we are seeing more and more children and young adults on the spectrum being charged with crimes…

    • That’s a great therapist! I always believe that parents can only parent in a way that is true to themselves. No one can really make themselves behave in a way that is out of their character, not for an extended stretch of time. That’s why there are good ones and lousy ones. I know of both kind and, sometimes, the end result is in no way a product of the parenting. That should give you some hope in regards to the children of the crappy mom you write about.

      • I don’t know if I agree. I think it is the child’s view of that parenting that determines their outcome. My mother’s parents were very involved and very strict. Each of their children turned out the way they interrupted the parenting given and they had 5. The oldest found their parenting cold, hard, and inhibiting; she traveled the world and never had children. #2 found it loving and challenging; she grew up to be a teacher. The middle child felt it was cold and that she was often unfairly treated; she became a raging alcoholic and druggie. # 4 found the challenge and discipline fun; he grew to be a hard worker, an eccentric, and a rebel. The youngest was obsessed with the challenge and the order; he became one of those guys who has to have the best of everything. Needless to say my grandparent’s parenting skills never changed over the years as we consistently heard about who they treated us as they treated our parents. My brother and I turned out differently because both of us took paths we thought would land us places that was NOTHING like our mother. So, I get what you are saying that outside sources have a major influence on who children become but parenting still has a large impact.

      • Good points. We may be saying the same thing. When I wrote that “the end result is in no way a product of the parenting” I meant the same thing as “the child’s view of that parenting that determines their outcome.” The kids, though treated probably almost the same, develop in their own unique ways.

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