The virtual ink was barely dry on my previous post about law and autism, when my Twitter feed threw this story my way.
A mother was jailed after her nine year-old autistic son missed too much school. She keeps him at home when his behaviour is too challenging for the school to handle. Though she considers the behaviour too challenging at those times, it is less clear that the school at issue shares her views; the report gives the clear impression that the school can and is willing to handle her child – even has teachers specifically trained for dealing with autistic children. Indeed, it would not have made sense for her to be arrested for keeping her son out of school, if the school had been unable or unwilling to have him attend class.
She had a doctor’s opinion outlining that there are times when her son is best left in her care rather than at school. She was told that she should have made that opinion known to the relevant judge in order to avoid having been arrested in the first place. Which is to say, it appears that the whole situation could have been avoided with better communication between the mother and the judicial system; as to whether that lack of communication is the mother’s or the judicial system’s fault, I’m not sure. Chances are it was a mix, as these things often are; such as she didn’t share the information but she didn’t know whether or how she was meant to share it. It appears that she should have directly informed the school district of the doctor’s opinion in advance too (if she hadn’t already done so, I’m assuming from the story’s details that she had not done so).
There is an apparent dissonance between the views of the mother and doctor on the one hand, and the school itself and the school district on the other, as to whether the school is the best place for the child at those challenging times. The judicial system appears to give particular weight to the doctor’s opinion (which is in line with what I have thus far read about Florida’s school attendance requirements. If someone reading this is more familiar with the rules and how they are put into practice, I would be happy to hear further detail.)
The story highlights a range of common issues for parents raising autistic children, particularly lack of sufficient support at school to allow the parent to not have to be “on-call”, and how this affects the life of both the parent and child.
Overall, I’d say it’s largely a non-story on the legal front. The law surrounding regular attendance in Florida appears quite flexible and responsive to different circumstances, and is presumably set up with the aim of protecting the child’s best interests. A doctor’s note explaining absence is clearly an accepted grounds for lower attendance than is otherwise expected. The mother appears to have become quite accustomed to keeping her child away from school in the past, and was ultimately brought to task for it. Once the situation was further explained, the judicial system responded as it should.
It’s all quite frightening and close to home for some of us, that’s undoubtedly so, but it does appear to have been an avoidable upset.