A Gary, Indiana, family who has an 11-year-old son with autism are angry after they feel their son's teacher ridiculed him and bullied him after giving their son received a completely unacceptable award at an end of year ceremony. While other children were given awards celebrating their accomplishments over the school year such as "most improved" or "funniest, " Akalis Castejon was presented with an award for "Most Annoying Male" by his special education teacher.
Rick and Estella Castejon told ABC 13 Eyewitness News they were "blindsided" when they saw the award their son, who has Autism and is non-verbal, had been presented at the end of the year ceremony. The couple explained that Akalis sometimes rocks back and forth or shakes, all common traits of Autism, and all traits they feel their son's teachers should be familiar with.
"You'd think one would know and understand the conditions of autism and have more patience to deal with children who suffer from autism," Mrs. Castejon told the news station.
While Mrs. Castejon wasn't at the ceremony, Mr. Castejon and he says he was so shocked by the award he attempted to simply leave it behind. "I didn't want to cause a scene with other parents there, so I left the award on the table and tried walking away, but the teacher came back and said Akalis forgot his award," he said. Akalis was so excited to get his name called to receive an award that Mr. Castejon says he didn't want to make a scene, but he's thankful his son doesn't understand what the award was for. "When they called him up he was just excited to get a gold star because it was shiny," he added.
“We were blindsided. We just weren’t expecting it,” Castejon told the Times of Northwest Indiana. "As a principal or teacher, you should never let this happen to any student." He said the teacher tried to act as though the award was simply a joke.
While neither the school's principal nor the teacher who gave the award would apologize to the Castejon's for the award, the school district did issue an apology. "The Gary Community School Corporation does not condone this type of behavior and will continue to put the safety and well-being of our students first," read a statement issued by Dr. Peter Morikis of the school district.
"We extend our deepest apologies to the impacted student, the family and anyone else who take offense to this unfortunate occurrence." While they stated that disciplinary action has been taken they haven't disclosed what that action was.
"An apology was extended on behalf of the district to the family, and disciplinary action was taken against personnel involved," Morikis said in a statement. "We acknowledge the potential impact that an experience like this could have on a child's mental well-being, self-esteem and overall level of comfortability in a learning environment going forward."
As for Estella Castejon, she hopes that something like this will never happen again and that everyone, especially teachers and educators better understand children with Autism. "He just wants to be like everyone else. He is like everyone else. The difference is he cannot express himself like every other person does," she added. “We just don’t want any other kids to go through this,” Mr. Castejon said. “Just because they have special needs doesn’t mean they don’t have feelings.”
The Castejon's told ABC 13 they will likely not return to the school next year.