Autistic Teen Shouldn't Be Held Legally Responsible for Hurting His Therapist

headphonesFile this one under absolutely infuriating. A young teenager with autism and an IQ under 70 is being charged with felony battery in the State of Florida for beaning his speech therapist in the head with a set of headphones. Think fast, parents: if a child doesn't know they're doing something wrong, is it fair to discipline them?

It's a question young Conner Brown's legal troubles are forcing parents like me to consider. The 13-year-old's mom and other educators have said his acts were the result of his disorder, not something he could control. Like many children with autism, noise bothers Conner. He threw the headphones not at his therapist, his mom says, but to react to loud noises from another student. But now he's in serious legal trouble, and it seems flat out wrong.


A child with special needs needs to be taught what behavior is inappropriate, not hauled in front of a judge and made to pay in a way that could follow him for the rest of his life. And while that speech therapist may have quite the knot on her head, if she works with special needs kids, she should understand that.

It's part of working with kids. Heck, it's part of parenting kids. We can't expect them to act at a more advanced level than they have achieved in their development.

When my kid makes a mistake, I have to evaluate what she did against her knowledge before I react. Did she run and hide because she was afraid I'd be angry? Did she try to shove something behind her back when I came into the room? Did she stare me down with her hands on her hips, just daring me to say something? Anything to give me the sense that she knew exactly what she was doing and why it was wrong ... but did it anyway ... is grounds for a punishment in our house.

But like Conner Brown, she's just a kid. She's still learning right from wrong. And there are those gray areas. If she uses a curse word and just keeps on chattering away, she probably doesn't know it was all that bad. If she sits right in the middle of the living room watching a channel she shouldn't, chances are she doesn't think I'd have a problem with it.

That's when I know my job isn't to discipline. It's to teach. We can't expect kids to act like grown-ups when they aren't.

Is it fair to punish a kid like Conner Brown for doing something that he couldn't control?


Image via Mulad/Flickr

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