Shocking Autistic Child Abuse Cases Call for Improved Caregiver Education

According to reports from Child Protection Services and Centers for Disease Control researchers, special needs and disabled children are at a particularly high risk of abuse from adults.

Unfortunately, this includes autistic children, who have long been stigmatized and misunderstood. Because these youths sometimes experience difficulty in social situations, they may require extra patience. But sadly, that compassion is often lacking – not just from their peers, but also from their adult caretakers, be they teachers or day care providers.

Care2 recently reported on Dolores Zabek, a longtime childcare business owner and operator in Massachusetts. Despite being filmed kicking and hitting a 4-year-old autistic boy, Zabek was spared a jail sentence. Instead, she lost her business and was put on probation.

Since then, several other highly alarming cases of mistreatment toward autistic children have surfaced.

Kirsten Barnett, an elementary school teacher in West Texas, was recently arrested and charged with injury to a child. If found guilty, she may face as many as 10 years in prison.

According to her teacher’s aid, Barnett — apparently frustrated with her 4-year-old autistic student’s difficulty in following directions — chose to put the boy in a “restraining hold” before biting him. Faculty told police that they discovered a bite mark on the boy’s face after the attack.

In a different disturbing incident, this time in Florida, Luanne Haygood filmed her 10-year-old autistic son being handcuffed by police and taken away in the back of a cruiser. In the video, the boy can be heard saying, “Please don’t touch me. I don’t know what’s going on.”

The boy was then booked into a juvenile facility where he was kept for the night.

Haygood’s son’s arrest came after he was accused of kicking a teacher. While she recognizes that he should not have done this, Haygood claims “it was because of his autism that spurred this incident.” She suggests that had her son been dealt with differently, no one would have been hurt and no arrest would have been made.

“Instead of treating or accommodating, we arrest because we don’t know what else to do,” Haygood explained, adding that the incident “broke her heart.”

With this remark, Haygood makes an important point. We live in a diverse, colorful world with people of all varieties. Not everyone will fit within the parameters some consider “normal,” and that is not a bad thing — arguably, the contrary.

Rather than helping or working with these individuals, all too often it seems those who lack the patience and compassion to understand this will instead resort to extremes, like locking up a 10-year-old or even biting a child on the face.

What do these responses accomplish, exactly? Practically speaking, very little, other than to teach these people — in this case, developing autistic children — that they are somehow “bad” or wrong to be how they are.

Perhaps the most proactive way to prevent abuse toward autistic children in the future would be to improve education for individuals given the responsibility of caring for minors. In fact, it should be mandated.

Photo Credit: Raul Hernandez Gonzalez/Flickr


Marie W
Marie W1 years ago

Thanks for sharing

Telica R
Telica R1 years ago

Poor kids

Carl R
Carl R2 years ago


Carl R
Carl R2 years ago


Philippa P
Philippa Powers2 years ago


rosario p
rosario p.2 years ago

Finnish education system : A rigorous teacher training and selection and support given to laggards and causes behind. ONLY the most capable in all VARIETIES of school needs and ages can afford to exercise.Teachers have exceptionally high social status, on a belief in the power of education in a sensitive and "pupil-led" approach. A better Educational Culture to restore the "joy and meaningfulness of learning" implies policy, teachers and parents.

Celine Russo
Celine Russo2 years ago

Who in their right mind would bite a child in the face just because "frustrated"? Why would such a person even be fit to teaching then???

Jess B
Jess B2 years ago

Sad that children are being treated this way

Danuta W
Danuta W2 years ago

Thank you so very much

Margie F
Margie FOURIE2 years ago