Family Outraged With Court’s Decision in Autistic Son’s Felony Assault Case

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Paul Gordo, 18, appeared in court on Wednesday to face a felony assault charge stemming from an incident in which he injured a woman in Monterey, California. Gordo’s family confirmed on Facebook the offense was reduced to one misdemeanor charge for great bodily harm, and Gordo, who has autism, was put on probation, but neither they nor disability advocates across the country are pleased with the outcome.

“The court still ignores that this was prosecution of a disability,” Paul’s father, Steve Gordo, wrote on the family’s Facebook page, Autism is Not a Crime. “If this is success, why do I feel sick to my stomach?”

Paul Gordo was at a public library in July 2015 with a teacher, and after the busy setting triggered a meltdown, he ran out the door and injured a 58-year-old with Huntington’s disease. Jeannine Pacioni, deputy district attorney for Monterey County, told the Modesto Bee the injuries to the woman, who reportedly suffered a concussion, worsened her complications of the disease.

Gordo’s family was ordered to pay restitution for the woman’s medical expenses, and per the request of his family, Gordo will be receiving behavioral therapy at an out-of-state facility in Kansas. The court was presented with a letter from a forensic psychologist stating Gordo’s actions were the result of a neurological disorder and not driven by criminal intent, and Gordo’s family believes this helped lessen the blow.

 

UPDATE in Brief:DA reduced all charges to one misdemeanor assault with potential for Great Bodily Injury (GBI). Paul…

Posted by Autism is Not A Crime on Wednesday, February 17, 2016

 

“We are still angry with the system,” Steve Gordo, told the Modesto Bee. “One thing we are not happy about is that Paul was exhibiting the behavior of his disability and really was not under control at that time. We are glad we don’t have to sell our house to pay for a criminal trial.”

“It is ridiculous, but I am not surprised this happened,” added Shirley Nutt of Ripon, former director of Special Needs Advocates for Understanding. “I think it will happen more and more. If you are going to charge an adult with autism for manifestations of their behavior, then I guess you will charge a blind person with jaywalking if they step outside of a crosswalk.”

“His case and countless others across the country highlight the need for professionals within in the criminal justice system to be properly trained on supporting individuals with various diagnoses and recognizing various disabilities, including autism,” Leigh Ann Davis, Program Manager for The Arc’s National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability, told The Mighty. 

The Arc has been involved with the Gordo family throughout this process. “The fact of the matter is that people with intellectual and disabilities are not getting the proper support they need within the criminal justice system,” Davis added. “To manifest change, we need those on the inside to educate others in their field about what to look for to spot a disability, and how to find the appropriate supports and services for these individuals.”

The family set up an online petition protesting the criminalization of Paul Gordo’s actions, and to date, it has received more than 13,000 signatures of support. Jill Escher, president of the Autism Society of the San Francisco Bay Area, wrote a letter to the judge urging her to drop the criminal prosecution. Escher previously told The Mighty major changes need to be made within our legal system.

“One thing’s for sure, our criminal justice system, which is predicated on the idea of punishing those who willingly choose to transgress the law, is no place to address impulsive acts of developmentally disabled adults,” Escher wrote in an email.

For more information, visit the Gordo family’s Facebook page and their Change.org petition page.

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New Study Says Parents of Kids With Autism and Behavioral Issues Should Check for This

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A new study reveals findings that may have implications for parents of children with autism displaying behavioral issues.

The study, published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, indicates sleep disturbance is associated with behavioral problems among children with ASD. Researchers found that kids on the spectrum who didn’t sleep well at night displayed more behavioral issues during the day,

To get these results, scientists studied the sleep habits 81 children on the spectrum. Sleep problems were significantly associated with physical aggression, irritability, inattention and hyperactivity. Researchers noted that night awakenings had the most consistently strong association with daytime behavior problems, even after controlling for the effects of age and sex.

Though it’s unclear what exactly is driving sleep challenges in those with autism, the findings reiterate the need to consider sleep habits when evaluating behavior, Disability Scoop reported.

“If parents are noticing that their children are having behavioral problems, it may be helpful to make sure they are sleeping well at night,” said Micah Mazurek, an assistant professor of health psychology at the University of Missouri and an author of the study. “For all children with ASD, it is important that parents and professionals routinely screen for sleep problems. Addressing these issues will help children be at their best during the day.”

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To the Police, From the Dad of a Child With Autism (and a Cop)

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Brothers and sisters, we are losing. We can argue about the reasons why; we can argue about the biased media, unreasonable expectations, poor self-promotion. But the brutal truth I’ve seen is many individuals with special needs and their families are afraid to call us when they need help. They are afraid we will hurt them. They are afraid we will judge them. They are afraid we will take their children away. That is both tragic and unacceptable to me, and I hope it is unacceptable to you, too.

This is difficult for me to say, but in all honesty I’m afraid, too. I am a high-ranking officer in my police department. I am in charge of training. I teach this stuff. And as a dad, I’m afraid, too. You — we — are granted immense power to affect the trajectory of people’s lives. That scares them — us.

We are family. I would bleed for you. I am calling in my chips and begging you to hear me out. You will meet our families at our lowest points. Understand the courage and sheer desperation that is required, given their utter fear, to pick up the phone and dial 911 during a crisis. You will be tempted to judge us — to “otherize” us. Please don’t. I am a good father. My wife is a wonderful mother. We enjoy the luxury of an incredible support structure. And if you were to judge me based on any of the four (yes, four) times I have lost my son, you could make a case that I am unfit.

Families like mine operate on high alert 24 hours per day. I have not sat and relaxed during a meal with my wife at a family picnic in 11 years. We take turns keeping watch over my son. We sleep in shifts. We sleep with one ear open for the sound of the chain latch on our back door — not because we are afraid of burglars coming in, but because we are afraid of our son breaking out. We are constantly aware of the ignorant stares and judgment of strangers. We have to carefully plan and coordinate even the shortest trips to the supermarket.

I’m not asking for your sympathy. This is not a tragedy. This is a challenge. And sometimes, our best isn’t good enough. Sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need you.

I am your biggest fan. I am your loudest advocate. I am screaming from the rooftops that you are, without equivocation, the Good Guys. But it’s so fragile. One negative headline spreads like wildfire and can become the accepted perception. Open your hearts and minds, and learn about our families. Approach us with genuine curiosity and empathy. You have no idea how much we need you.

A version of this post originally appeared on Bacon and Juice Boxes.

The Mighty is asking the following: Describe a moment you were met with extreme negativity or adversity related to your disability and/or disease (or a loved one’s) and why you were proud of your response — or how you wish you could’ve responded. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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To the Mums on the Playground, From ‘That Mum’ Who Avoided Talking to You

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Dear mums on the playground,

You may not know me well, but I was the mum who skulked past you with my head hiding under my umbrella or under my hood just to avoid having to talk to you for many years. I was that mum the class teacher always wanted to come and talk to at the end of the day, with a knowing look that something had happened that she needed to tell me about. I was that mum whose child stopped getting invited to parties. I was that mum who never came to the PTA meetings or mums’ nights out, who wasn’t part of any mums’ “group.”

I was that mum who was often running late in the mornings, looking hassled and exhausted at drop-off time and never had the time to say hello to you. I was that mum you would whisper should discipline her child better.

That’s me. I was that mum.

I want to tell you what I should have said back then on the playground — that I had grown tired of feeling like an outsider when I stood by myself day after day. I was tired of feeling your eyes watching me when the teacher came out to speak to me yet again, and that things got so tricky for my son that he had to leave.

I felt alone because I was not one of you. I didn’t fit into your “group.” But I really did want to be your friend. I wanted to meet for morning coffees and chat about where we were going on holiday that summer. But I couldn’t — and not for the reasons you may think.

You see, I was that parent the teacher always wanted to talk to. But not because my child was naughty, as I imagined you were thinking. It was because he found mainstream school incredibly tough. And this led to his behavior being deemed as “challenging” by his teachers, because he couldn’t follow their instructions or fit in with the rest of the class.

And I can understand why my child never got invited to parties. It’s not that he didn’t want to attend your child’s party when we declined. It’s because he just found it all too overwhelming and would often get upset when he did go. So we stopped saying yes, and then the invites inevitably stopped coming.

And yes, I never made it to PTA meetings. Not because I didn’t want to, but because usually I was busy filling in forms, attending meetings with someone on my son’s team, at an appointment or having to explain myself to yet another professional who was looking at my parenting because my son didn’t have a diagnosis at this point.

The reason I was always in a rush in the mornings was because my child had severe school-related anxiety. Some mornings it could take me 30 minutes just to get him to put one sock on. He needed routines, visuals and social stories just for me to get him through the school gates. I had to drive the same way each day and pray there would be no traffic, as that made his anxiety worse. And when it was non-uniform day or cake sale day — well, those days were even trickier for us to get to school. It wasn’t that we didn’t want to join in; it was just too much for him to cope with.

I’m thinking back to that time you saw my son so anxious and so upset that he felt the need to run away and kick the wall when the fire alarm was going off at drop-off time. On that busy playground, you all stood and watched us. I had to stop him from escaping, so he lashed out as a way of protecting himself. No one came to help us; no one came to see if we were OK.

We now know my son has autism.

For a long time, I felt judged — judged by parents, judged by school, judged by professionals. I was that mum who walked with her head down. I was worn down and defensive as a result of all the stress. I became too tired to face anyone, so it became easier to avoid you. To walk past you in the playground and hide behind my umbrella.

But I am now several years down the line and no longer have to do the school playground thing because my son attends a school that best meets his individual needs, which means going to a school in a different area — so he gets a taxi there and back.

That’s why I left so abruptly last year with no explanation or goodbye. He needed to leave as his anxiety had consumed him. And I couldn’t face telling any of you.

I know any judgments you made, if you made any at all, were because you didn’t understand. I mean, how could you if I kept my head down each day and didn’t attempt to let any of you into my world? I never gave you the chance. I did want to — believe me, I did — I just didn’t have the energy as I was fighting for my son on so many different fronts at the time. And for that I am sorry.

Now I have found my “group.” I may not have felt like I fit in on the playground, but I have found a whole world of online support out there from fellow special needs mums. With them, I don’t have to explain why my son finds school so hard because they experience it each day like me. So it’s natural and comfortable with them. But if I’m honest, sometimes going out of our comfort zone does us good every now and again.

You see, I was guilty as anyone all those years in the playground — because I judged you. Those mums will never understand, or they’re watching me again, I would tell myself, so I kept my distance. That was wrong of me. I assumed you were judging me, but I never really took the time to find out.

No mum should ever walk with her head down, because we’re all doing the same job. It’s tough, and we all want what’s best for our kids, whether they have special needs or not.

And we special needs mums have just as much to offer as a friend and member of the school community as anyone else. We just have to make adaptions.

So if you recognize some of yourself in my story — be strong, be brave and be honest. Don’t be like me and leave it until it’s too late. Take those brave strides across the concrete and hopscotch and talk to each other. You may be surprised what lies behind the façade as there is always more than meets the eye.

And who knows what kind of friendship can blossom from huddling together under the shelter of a shared umbrella on a soggy, wet afternoon in January? You won’t know unless you try!

A version of this post originally appeared on Kathybrodie.com. Follow this journey onA Slice of Autism.

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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When I Worried About My New Doctor Being Patient With Me

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When walking into a doctor’s office for the first time, or in fact long before the scheduled appointment day, I worry. Will this doctor have what it takes to be able to help me? The patience? Willingness to learn? And I worry about so much more.

Well, this day was not any different. We’d already been to multiple doctors and had many tests done once I started saying something hurt back in August. Mom and I go to this appointment, hopeful that this doctor will have some answers. They call my name, and Mom and I walk back with the nurse. Then we see the doctor, Dr. Ann. She greets us warmly and explains that she is the mom of an adult son with autism. I breathe.

I’ve seen Dr. Ann three times since that first meeting, and each time I see her, she is patient. She listens as I used my iPad to help explain the problem. I am verbal, but sometimes I use my iPad to help me communicate and get my thoughts out. Pain and hurt is hard for me to communicate. Things just hurt, I want it fixed and usually in-depth, abstract questions related to the hurt are hard for me to answer. Although, I’ve gotten better in this area, and my parents have become pretty good interpreters.

I used my iPad to answer Dr. Ann’s questions, including, “How does it hurt?” Mom and I left that appointment feeling blessed, because we think we may have found the person who may be able to help us solve this mystery. Dr. Ann goes above and beyond to make sure my needs are being met.

Today she made time in her busy schedule to stop in and see me and talk to my mom and I while I was in the office for an appointment with a nurse. She didn’t have to do this, but she did, because she gets it, she understands. Dr. Ann is my hero, a true blessing. Like I told Mom today, I really like Dr. Ann. I wish there were more doctors like her.

Remember, sometimes the journey can be long and bumpy. The road to answers may have many pitstops and detours on the way to the finish line. But don’t give up. Don’t let this stop you from advocating. Trust your gut instincts. Find a doctor you trust and feel comfortable with. Remember, sometimes this may take time. I wish it was easier to find doctors like Dr. Ann. Hopefully it will be in the future.

Thank you Dr. Ann, and to all the doctors who go out of their way and above and beyond for their patients. It really makes a difference.

Woman on a hospital bed

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Write a thank you letter to someone you realize you don’t thank enough. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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The 4 Words From My Son With Autism That Have Saved Me From Worry

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“Not now, but later.”

If only I heard those words 10 years ago. If only I believed those words 10 years ago. If only I tattooed those words backwards on my forehead 10 years ago so every time I looked in the mirror they would not only have hidden my deepening frown line, they would have hidden the fear in my heart from the only person who saw it: me.

But I didn’t, because I wanted “now.” “Later” felt too late.

super bowl sign

I heard those words loud and clear just a week ago when Ryan got invited to a Super Bowl party, his first invite by a classmate in almost 10 years. To say Ryan was ecstatic is an enormous understatement. He was fighting back tears when he shoved the invitation in my face! What mattered most was this nice girl handed an invitation to him.

On the Sunday night before the big party, Ryan jumped up on my bed and reminded me where he would be “seven nights from tonight.” Then it was my turn to fight back the tears. My beautiful 14-year-old son looked at me, somewhat sheepishly, and asked if I would help him “practice” some things he could talk about with the party guests. I was flabbergasted. For years we have tried to role play, “practice” and rehearse various conversations, what-if scenarios and what-to-expect moments, which Ryan often refused to do. However, on this night he said, “I don’t know what to expect at a Super Bowl party, and I want to be prepared.”

After I recovered from the shock and awe that this kid bestows upon me with increasing regularity, I told him there was nothing I would rather do. He then jumped off my bed, bounced away and shouted, “Not now, but later.” And there it was. Such a simple concept in four short words — four words that could have saved me such worry and heartache had I only trusted those words for the past decade, had I only trusted him.

“Not right now, but later” could truly have been the mantra, the theme, the words to live by for our journey. As I watched him happily bounce out of my bedroom a few short nights ago while humming the latest Minecraft music, I realized he has been “saying” those very words for years. I just wasn’t listening.

“Now, I want you to learn to tie your shoes so you are ready for kindergarten,” right after we read this book, practice with this pretend shoe in the book, and after your big brother Kyle shows you how he does it. Ryan had a difficult time and became frustrated. “Not right now, but later,” because it didn’t matter how cool the book with the fake shoe on the front was or how much he idolized his brother, Ryan’s fine motor skills were still developing, so “now” was not the time for shoe-tying (or shirt-buttoning). “Later” came, later.

“Hey buddy, now I want to hear Ryan talk instead of [insert any character on TV he was scripting nonstop at the time]. I like Ryan’s voice so much better,” I cajoled. Ryan went about his latest script in his latest voice as if he hadn’t heard my request. The thing is, that was Ryan’s voice. He was communicating with me in his own way, and if I would have heard “Not right now, but later,” it may have sounded remarkably like “Dora the Explorer,” but I wasn’t listening. “Now” I do hear Ryan’s voice, along with the latest Minecraft YouTuber he is obsessed with, and no matter who I hear, no matter what is said, I listen.

“Wow! I can barely see your eyes because your hair is so long. We have to go for a haircut now,” I whispered in his ear while he was almost asleep so I could live with myself knowing I told him, but hoping and praying he didn’t really hear me so I wouldn’t have to hear the cries, the worries and the fight to get him in the car until “now” actually meant now. The tears, the cries, the heartbreaking “no, no, no” with every piece of hair that floated to the ground was Ryan’s way of telling me “Not right now, but later.” The snip, snip, snip of the scissors was likely loud in his ears. The pieces of hair falling on his neck may have felt like shards of glasses poking in his skin. The different comb, the chair that lifted up and spun around, the numerous conversations happening in the salon all may have been too much for his overloaded sensory system. “Not right now, but later.” And as always, “later” came, with Ryan flopping in the salon chair and barking, “Just give me the usual,” because now he is prepared. Now he knows what to expect. Now he is ready.

boys shirts and pants

“Now that you are older, maybe you should wear clothes like a lot of the other middle schoolers,” I tried as Ryan walked out the door in silky track pants that I have such a hard time finding now that he wears men’s sizes. The same clothes day in and day out was Ryan’s way of telling me, “Not right now, but later,” because those clothes made him feel comfortable and the predictability of how those clothes felt on his body was one thing he could count on not to change throughout his day. Then one day after a shopping trip at the mall, other words came that I was not expecting, beautiful words of self-awareness. “I wish my body wasn’t such an a*sehole and I could wear different things. I really want to, but my body won’t let me. My brain is highly connected to my sensory system, more than it is for my friends.” I was speechless but able to recover enough to take in this beautiful moment and remind Ryan of all the things that came “later” for him, when his body was ready.

And just two weeks later, when he felt his body was ready, came a request for khaki pants because he was ready to try them. “Later” came today as he walked into school wearing American Eagle khaki pants and a brand new Hollister shirt. “Not right now, but later,” on his terms, in his way, when he was ready, not me. And that is exactly how it has been all along and exactly how it should always be.

“Not right now, but later” has proven true time and time again. “Now” was what I needed, what I wanted, at a time I thought it should be happening. “Later” was what my boy needed, what he wanted and what he was telling me all along. Ryan may have never said those exact words to me until just a few days ago, but he has been telling me for years. I just hate that it took years for me to hear him, to understand him and to respect his time frame. I hope one day he forgives me and understands that “not right now, but later” has rung true on this journey for me as well.

Follow this journey on The AWEnesty of Autism.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe a time you saw your disability, illness and/or disease through the eyes of someone else. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected]. Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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