A “nationally recognized authority on autism,” author of books about autism and retired Penn State professor of special education, John T. Neisworth, is one of three men who, back in 2005, faced 25 counts of child sexual abuse dating back to the 1970s. Neisworth, Donald Smith, a retired real estate agent in Pittsburgh, and Carl Goeke of California were all accused of abusing a then-12-year-old boy who was a neighbor of Goeke’s in the 1970s. While Smith was acquitted and the charges against Neisworth and Goeke were dropped, learning that someone who has played a major role in autism education in the US — someone who was the academic director of a certificate in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a teaching methodology widely used to teach autistic children — is frankly more than disturbing to me, as the parent of an autistic child.
The three men’s young victim is now in his 40s and is a private investigator in Phoenix. Paul McLaughlin says he was 12 when Neisworth and the other man took him to locations in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Pennsylvania and molested him. Neisworth has denied the charges.
McLaughlin contacted Neisworth in 2001 and recorded a call in which Neisworth seems to acknowledge the abuse and says that he gave McLaughlin alcohol. McLaughlin sued Neisworth and and received a settlement in the “six figures.”
McLaughlin also says that he told Penn State officials, including former president Graham Spanier, that Neisworth had abused him repeatedly while he was a boy, sometimes on the campus of Penn State. McLaughlin sent the officials the recording he had made; one official returned the package containing it to him, unopened.
…McLaughlin said he was rebuffed.
“He told me whatever I wanted to get from the school, I wasn’t going to get it, and this was a guy with an impeccable reputation, and unless he was convicted of a crime, they weren’t interested,” McLaughlin, now 45 and a private investigator in Phoenix, recalled of his short phone conversation with Spanier. “When I offered to send him the tape, he said, ‘Don’t bother.’ That was his exact words.”
Bill Mahon, a university spokesman, said he could not say whether that phone call took place, and that no records were kept of calls Spanier received.
In 2005, Neisworth, Smith and Goeke were charged with abusing McLaughlin in Maryland. Of the four states in which McLaughlin was abused, only Maryland allowed criminal charges 20 years after the events. But under Maryland law, recordings made without the consent of both parties are not allowed as evidence, so McLaughlin’s tape could not be used. The charges against Neisworth and Goeke were dropped, while Smith was acquitted.
Speaking to the New York Times about being dismissed by Penn State officials, McLaughlin said of Neisworth that “They just didn’t want to hear it, didn’t want to investigate to make sure. He was their guy.”
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