Words by Jordan Villanueva
If you haven’t already seen New Jersey resident Stuart Chaifetz’s viral video, I think you should.
Chaifetz, father of 10-year-old Aikan, claims that his son has been bullied by his teacher, Kelly Altenburg—a 25-year special education teacher. Aikan has autism. Chaifetz was receiving complaints from Aikan’s teachers that he was having violent outbursts at school.
Finding this behaviour in his son unusual, Chaifetz decided to send Aikan off to school on the morning of Feb. 17 with a tape recorder. What he found that night was seven hours of recorded verbal abuse from multiple adult females. Inappropriate remarks, including a discussion of hangovers and calling Aikan a “bastard” was included in the tapes.
The Cherry Hill Public School District was unable to confirm the names of the voices heard in the recordings, but they have stated that “the individuals who are heard on the recording raising their voices and inappropriately addressing children no longer work in the district and have not since shortly after we received the copy of the recording.”
What we do know is that the teacher aide has been identified as Jodi Sgouros and was fired immediately. Kelly Altenburg still works for the school district, but at another school.
There has been much controversy over whether or not Altenburg was actually present during the recordings, but the fact remains the same: there were helpless children, including Aikan, who were subjected to cruelty and taunting in place of growth, learning and mutual respect.
And this is why, even a week after seeing this video, it still haunts me. I’ve heard stories of autistic children being bullied by peers, but I’ve never heard of a teacher taking on the role as a bully.
According to a new study done by the Interactive Austism Network, children with autism are more susceptible to becoming victims for peers and, apparently, teachers. Bullying can cause meltdowns and even violent outbursts like Aikan’s.
But this information isn’t really a surprise. We know that bullies attack the weak and helpless. And it’s pretty clear that whoever was bullying Aikan knew he wouldn’t (couldn’t?) squeal to dad.
Stuart Twemlow, MD, is a psychiatrist who directs the Peaceful Schools and Communities project at the Menninger Clinic in Houston. In a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Social Psychiatry, he surveyed 116 teachers at seven elementary schools. 45 percent of those teachers admitted to having bullied a student.
If you suspect a teacher, or even a classmate is bullying your child, don’t hesitate to take action. Twemlow suggests the following steps:
Make school an open subject to talk about at home.
Because teachers have an authoritative role, kids might be a little shy or even scared to report any incidents that might have occurred. Ask questions and keep an eye out for any behavioral changes in your child.
Behavioural changes might include:
- Losing interest in school.
- Anxiousness or nervousness attending class.
- Mood swings, including outbursts.
- Trouble sleeping, or a change in eating habits.
A child experiencing bullying also might start becoming more susceptible to headaches and illness—from stomachaches to anxiety, depression and suicide.
Meet with your child’s teacher.
If you do suspect a problem, meet with the teacher to discuss it. Don’t call them screaming “Bloody murder!” or “My lawyers will end your career!” Keep calm and an open mind—you have to expect the possibility that your child might have misinterpreted their teacher’s behaviour.
Take your complaint higher.
If the issue isn’t resolved with your child’s teacher, try speaking with the principal. Although some principals don’t honour requests for a class switch, it doesn’t hurt to ask. If the principle proves to be of no help, contact the superintendent or the school district.
Support your child.
Tell them everything will be all right. Take them to the zoo, buy them that new One Direction CD—whatever you do, make your child aware that you care and that you will help in any way possible.
To listen to the audio clips, visit: