Pupil, 11, with autism spectrum disorder unfairly suspended - mom

2019-02-28 06:30
School classroom. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

School classroom. (Duncan Alfreds, News24, file)

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The parents of an 11-year-old Gauteng boy, diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and high functioning autism, want answers for their son's apparent "unfair" suspension from a special school.

His mother told News24 that her son attended Protea School in Springs, east of Ekurhuleni, since 2016. She cannot be named in order to protect the identity of her minor son.

She said her son was suspended last Tuesday and that no valid reasons were provided, adding that the school didn’t even call them in to warn them about any problems involving their son.

When News24 reached out to the school it was told to direct media queries to the provincial education department.

The provincial Department of Education confirmed the suspension and is investigating the mother's allegations.

The mother said she and the child's father received an email that informed them of the suspension. It stated, among other things, that the boy had an anger outburst.

"Now suddenly the day before yesterday (last Tuesday) I got an email stating that our son is suspended. We have never had any warning letters, not any meetings and we don't really know why he is suspended. 

"They only listed certain things that are in the Government Gazette and they are not telling us what he did and when he did anything wrong," the frustrated mother said.

READ: Autistic boy, 11, will finally be going to school after 'teaching' himself under tree

She added that they couldn't understand why the school found their son's behaviour problematic when the it was meant to be a special school that was supposed to be able to deal with such behaviour.

"One of the symptoms of autism is anger, frustration, anxiety etc. So when my son gets upset, he can't help what he says or cannot control his emotions because he is autistic and those behaviours are part of the symptoms."

She also claimed that the school didn't know how to deal with autistic children and it was frustrating for them because they had to move to Springs so that their son could attend the school.

The mother said their woes with the school dated back to 2016 when the principal apparently refused to have her son admitted. She claimed that the principal argued that her son had epilepsy.

After they argued otherwise, she said the boy was admitted. But it didn't end there.

Frustrated

In 2017, the principal hit the son in his face, the mother alleged.

She said the case was under police investigation.

"Conveniently for them, they made the video footage disappear but I have photos of my son's face four hours after he was hit. I opened a case at the police station and it is still with the prosecutor", she said.

ALSO READ: 10 things every child with autism wishes you knew

The school has allowed the child to attend school during the assessment period while on suspension, the department of Education confirmed. However, the mother said she was frustrated because she had to prepare him.

"The school has been instructed to develop an academic catch-up plan to be provided to the parents after the conclusion of the disciplinary support meeting, which we encourage parents to attend," spokesperson Steve Mabona said.

Education department to investigate

Mabona added that the department was also investigating allegations that the boy had been hit in the face.

"That is unacceptable and cannot be tolerated to happen in our environment. No child will be harmed, especially by people tasked with a huge responsibility of taking care of them," he said.

Mabona said that an autism diagnosis was not submitted to the school.

When the pupil was admitted to the school in 2016, he was classified as a learner with "a specific learning disorder", he said.

A full neurological evaluation was recommended because the boy appeared to have a short concentration span.

"Previously, he was diagnosed by a medical practitioner with both attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) as well as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and the educational psychologist, Dr Barbara Maritz, observed a tremor during her intellectual assessment of [the boy]," Mabona said.

It was not a school-based educational psychologist.

Claims disputed

The child's mother disputed this and said that the child had been diagnosed by Dr Lippert, who is a paediatric neurologist, in July 2016. 

In a letter from the doctor, which News24 has seen, Dr Lippert said the pupil had no social skills and was diagnosed with a light form of autism spectrum disorder.  He also stated clearly that the child did not have epilepsy.

The mother told News24 that the letter from Dr Lippert , as well as a letter from Dr C.J. Niemand, dated February 26, 2019, which confirms the diagnosis, had been sent to the school several times, with the latest occasion coming as recent as last week.

 *This story has updated to include the mother's rebuttal of the department's comment that the school has not received the documentation.

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