When the news broke last week that a speech therapist filed felony battery charges against an autistic student, the incident sparked discussion about whether the legal system is the best way to handle special-needs children when they act out.
We don't often hear about incidents like these in the Pensacola area.
Assistant State Attorney Greg Marcille said his office rarely sees cases like this one, but it is not uncommon for juveniles and adults with mental disabilities to be charged with crimes.
"This exact circumstance would be unusual," he said.
But nationally, it's not rare for an autistic students to get arrested.
"It's not an isolated incident," said Lydia Brown, who works with the Autistic Self Advocacy Network in Washington, D.C. "It's not uncommon."
In Livonia, Mich. last May, 11-year-old autistic student Victor Sleta was arrested after he bolted from school. In Hamilton, Ala., in October, nonverbal autistic student Emily Holcomb, 14, was charged with first-degree felony assault after allegedly hitting and pushing her special education teacher.
While school district employees have the right to file charges against a student, advocates like Brown — who is autistic — say the legal system is not the proper way to punish students with autism.
She said students and teachers should be taught ways to cope when outbursts happen.
"When charges are pressed on autistic students in school, I believe it's almost always wrong," Brown said. "In the vast majority of these cases, an autistic student is provoked by somebody. As an autistic person, when people touch me unexpectedly, my reaction is to hit them."