On my son's behalf

My 13 year old son -- I'll call him Kenneth -- has an IEP and exhibits behaviors that place him on the autism spectrum. Some of his challenges are physical: he was born deaf in his left ear and with a hole in his heart. Some of his challenges are social and emotional: he has difficulty staying calm when he's frustrated. When he makes a mistake he is more likely to self-injure, almost like a caged feral animal. He has a lot of trouble in his peer relations, and he reads social cues poorly. Society, people, new things, and novelty overwhelm him in ways that most people will never experience or understand.

He uses a pocket knife to whittle and keep his hands busy. He has never hurt himself or anyone else with a knife of any kind. One afternoon in September, 2009, I received a phone call from the principal of my son's middle school: Kenneth had a knife at school and I needed to come right away. By the time I arrived, Kenneth had been questioned, the paperwork for his arrest and 10-day suspension were done, and conversations about how to detain him were being considered. Kenneth was released into my custody, and told me he'd wanted to ask a teacher if his knife would be good for carving pumpkins (she had made some innocuous statement about it being close to pumpkin carving time). He hadn't used it to threaten anyone, didn't remove it from his pocket. The staff only became aware of it after he brought it to their attention. He willingly handed the knife over and didn't try to talk his way out of trouble.

My husband and I hired an attorney, who worked tirelessly to have the charges dropped. But Kenneth was found guilty of having a weapon at school. He was required to attend a special program for a while, and then the charges were dropped. But his erratic behaviors continued, and I was often called to pick him up at school when he was having a hard day.

One day this fall, Kenneth brought a knife to school again. Apparently within minutes of arriving at school he remembered that he had a knife in his pocket and urgently tried to give it to an adult. He never removed it and tried to find a safe solution to the situation. But he was arrested again for having a weapon at school and given another 10-day suspension. He was placed in another special program, but hasn't started yet. He is currently receiving three hours a week of home-based school services. I am trying to get the charges dropped again.

I believe my son is trying with all that he has to do what is right and make sense of this world he lives in. He is just a young boy, not a criminal. He is now hearing voices and seeing things that do not exist. I am becoming frustrated and confused. Kenneth now prefers to stay at home where it is safe. I watch as his social skills plummet. He has begun to doubt his self- worth. He is haunted by a wrong that never was a wrong.

Kenneth is what he is: a funny, quirky, caring young man. I am not a polished professional. And I don’t have answers. I can’t make it better. I am a mom to my children, a wife to my high school sweetheart, a part time yoga instructor. All I can do as I watch this happening and feeling helpless is swallow my pride, fight back molten tears of resentment as I see him being bullied by a system I trusted to educate him, bullied because he tried to do the right thing.

Kenneth says he wants to be a hero when he grows up. I tell him it is too late: he is my hero already.