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Asperger’s Teen Forced to Live in Dark Basement

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We were living in St. Paul, Minnesota, when my own son Charlie, who is on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum, was diagnosed. Charlie is 15 and just around the same age as the Minnesota teenager. I can’t help wondering if we might have crossed paths with him, or with his parents, years ago.

Caring for Autistic Children and Cultivating Unique Abilities

I’m stunned at the cruel and inhumane treatment the teenager suffered. It is especially abhorrent for me to read about this as, just a generation ago, parents were blamed for causing a child to “become” autistic due to mistreating him or her, by being so emotionally “frigid” that a young child lapsed into an “autistic withdrawal.” Parents of autistic children still often feel they have all eyes watching and accusing them for being bad parents and, therefore, bad people.

In reality, the parents we know are like those described in a New York Times Magazine article about 16-year-old Lars Sonne. His father, Thorkil, is the founder of Specialisterne, a Danish company that seeks to draw on the unique talents and abilities of autistic adults to train them for jobs in fields such as software testing. Speicalisterne has now opened offices in the U.S..

Software testing would not be suitable employment for Charlie, who has yet to master control of a computer mouse and, so far, reads only a few words. But like Sonne, my husband and I are ever at work cultivating Charlie’s particular abilities — his powerful memory, ability to place things in a precise order with attention to the minutest of details and athletic prowess (Charlie is a graceful runner and an avid bike rider). As a parent of a child so very different and yet singularly capable, we feel called to do all that we can to prepare him for the future.

I do not know what happened among the Danners that they decided that basement isolation, video camera surveillance and military drills — abuse — were how to treat their teenage son with Asperger’s. While there are certainly numerous challenges in raising Charlie, his toughest moments have taught us the power that more love and understanding always provide in caring for him.

I hope the Minnesota teenager can indeed have, as his father says, the “good childhood” that he more than needs and, even more, a good life among those who love and care for him.

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8:23AM PDT on May 22, 2013

Well, as of Saturday and the release of DSM-V, I guess I have to say I have a six year old "on the spectrum", and this story has me in tears. That poor boy! His treatment reminds me of a book titled "A Child Called It," especially with the mother's response. Sixteen is a little old for a childhood, per say, but I really hope this boy can have a happy life from now on. Someone should be investigating the mental health of his mother and stepfather; treating anyone like that isn't psychologically healthy.

9:05AM PST on Feb 15, 2013

"One has to wonder, how such abuse of a child, and one with disabilities, could go on for so long?" I wonder just that. Hope poor child can recover from this torment and culprits pay!

11:12AM PST on Jan 28, 2013


5:18AM PST on Jan 28, 2013

They deserve their basic right of open air

6:32PM PST on Jan 15, 2013

How did this manage to go on so long? How long had the neighbors seemed to think it none of their business? What about other family members? Egads!
It is known that an orphanage or foster care may also have secret how and when does an individual who observes the abuse of a child determine whether to stand by silently and when to take a chance on things not being worse somewhere else?
Who knows what amount of damage was done and what amount of recovery may be possible for Charlie, but at least he is in a place where the other people he lives with care about and for him!!

8:19AM PST on Jan 12, 2013


12:04PM PST on Dec 16, 2012

This is really sad that a mother could allow something like that to happen to her own son. It's also sad that the stepfather could really believe that "disciplining" his stepson would "cure" him of his disease.

4:26PM PST on Dec 13, 2012

Two years and $6000 doesn't replace and compensate for a lost childhood and the trauma.
I hope his life is beautiful and he can make the past the past.

4:53PM PST on Dec 8, 2012

This boy told his father about it and until there was physical evidence of the abuse there was nothing he could do although he had tried for years.They worse part about this story is that these monster still have a child in their house.

4:34AM PST on Dec 7, 2012


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