Sigh. As if we needed further proof that life is tough for parents raising special needs children, the outrageous treatment of a Missouri teen with Down syndrome falls under the infuriating category. Aleczander Fujimoto has been suspended from his school for sexual harassment of a school bus aide.
Or, in his mind, giving his school bus aide a hug. And it's Alec's mind that matters here, right? He's the one being punished, but it doesn't seem like anyone cares about why Alec's hug crossed the line. This is the problem parents of special needs kids are facing every day, and the number-one issue school districts need to address.
It doesn't matter what happened if a child doesn't know what they did is wrong. It's like disciplining a baby. They're not supposed to "get it." Most people are fairly familiar with the physical markers of Down syndrome -- small ears and mouth, eyes that slant upward, and a flattened nose -- it's the way the birth defect affects a child's social and mental development that means society can't apply the same rules to kids like Alec that are applied to kids with 46 chromosomes. His condition drives the inappropriate behavior, not anything cruel or twisted inside of him.
The Missouri school is claiming the aide told teenage Alec "no" when he asked if he could give her a hug, but he didn't take no for an answer. On top of that, they say he laid on the woman and mimicked a sex act. His mom, Tonia, says her son is just a hugger. And when he hugs, he gets excited. He jumps up and down. She's saying there was no sexual intention, although she's also asking for video of the incident to confirm her suspicions, which the school is refusing to hand over.
So let's just suppose the kid's excitement this time was a little surprise for the school bus aide. Let's say she really did feel violated. It's not outside the realm of possibility -- kids with Down syndrome are not immune to sexual urges, and a woman doesn't have to accept anyone rubbing up against her in an intimate manner.
When is someone going to actually talk to this child and tell him that hugging someone who says "no" is never OK? That's the way you stop a child with Down syndrome from so-called "sexual harassment." Not suspension.
Instead of trying to fit these kids into the same boxes as their peers and punishing special needs kids for not being able to change, it's time school districts do the changing.
Is a hug sexual harassment when the child didn't know they were doing anything wrong?
Image via kevin dooley/Flickr