A Florida special education teacher, Lillian Gomez, could lose her job after allegedly putting hot sauce on crayons to stop her autistic students from putting them in their mouths.
Families of the children are calling for Gomez to be fired. Karina Holguin’s two five-year-old nephews are both students of Gomez at Sunrise Elementary School in Kissimmee; she told WFTV:
“I was really upset. I couldn’t believe it. Honestly, I was like how can a teacher of so many years do something like that. They got to be traumatized, especially for a kid who can’t express himself like any other children that can tell you this hurts or doesn’t hurt.”
Gomez allegedly put the hot sauce on the crayons last fall to stop her autistic students from chewing on them. She was removed from her classroom after the incident surfaced; the Osceola County superintendent has called for her to be fired and a termination hearing is scheduled for later this month.
The Use of Inhumane Aversive Techniques on Autistic Individuals
If you’re wondering how Gomez could have thought to do something so cruel to her students with disabilities, some programs and schools for autistic and developmentally disabled individuals have used hot sauce and other aversive techniques to “alter or suppress self-abusive behaviors or any other behaviors that staff members deem as uncooperative or unfavorable.” One such school, the Judge Rotenberg Education Center (JRC) in Canton, Massachusetts, has used the following:
…spanking, pinching, forcing to eat taste aversives (vinegar mix, jalapeno peppers, or hot sauce), withholding food, forcing to smell ammonia, spraying water to the face, forcing to listen to static noises through specially designed helmets, and their trade mark method, the use of the Graduated Electronic Decelerator (GED), which simply put is a shocking device that delivers a jolt to the student/patient of up to 65 volts of electricity through remote control.
Yes, that’s right. Some schools have given autistic and other individuals with disabilities an electric shock as a means of stopping self-injurious and other behaviors.
In 2007, the Massachusetts Department of Early Education and Care found that the JRC had treated two residents abusively, after they were shocked using the GED when a former student, pretending to be a staff member, made the request over the phone. The JRC’s operations were under review by the state of Massachusetts until December 2008. In 2011, Massachusett’s Department of Developmental Services banned the JRC and other facilities for the developmentally disabled from using harmful aversive techniques including electric shock, long-term restraint, or aversives that pose the risk of psychological harm on new admissions.
My teenage son Charlie has a history of some really difficult behaviors but never once have we thought of using such cruel methods. It is not easy, and every individual is different, but we have been able to help him through such behaviors and to lessen them, largely by taking into account (1) Charlie’s immense struggles to communicate (he can talk, but only in 1 – 5 word utterances) and (2) his extreme sensitivity to sensory stimuli.
Given all this, I was even more shocked to read about Gomez allegedly putting the hot sauce on the crayons. There are plenty of other, humane ways to teach children not to chew on crayons or non-food items. It is heartbreaking that the children in Gomez’s classroom have had to endure such trauma and cruel treatment about which they are very likely unable even to talk about, to explain their pain.
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