Autistic child's arrest fuels debate

PORTLAND, Tenn., March 29 (UPI) -- An autistic sixth-grade student in Tennessee was arrested and hospitalized after attacking teachers during an outburst, authorities said.

Dylan Gaspard, 12, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 7, was arrested, put in juvenile detention center and charged with two counts of assault for biting and scratching teachers, The (Nashville) Tennessean reported Sunday.


His mother Cindy Gaspard says that is not the way to handle situations with autistic children.

"I disagree with court or jail as a placement for a mentally challenged child, when what he clearly needs is psychiatric treatment," Gaspard said. "For Dylan, sitting in jail meant nothing to him. Treatment and assistance at a hospital will help him attain the skills he needs."

Dylan has been in the hospital for a psychological evaluation since the March 9 episode, the newspaper reported.

Advocates say it is not uncommon for special-needs children to be jailed.

"Statewide, we have had several cases of children with disabilities being arrested and being taken to juvenile court for behaviors in school," said Sherry Wilds, staff attorney for the Tennessee Disability Law and Advocacy Center. "It's the answer a lot of systems have."


Local police defended the boy's arrest, saying he was a danger.

"If the child is so out of control that the teachers can no longer handle him, we are going to have to respond," said Lt. Kate Novitsky,

spokeswoman for the Gallatin Police Department. "If the child is biting, scratching and kicking, the child is going to have to be taken into custody."

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