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Local advocates voice importance of autism awareness

ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) – Following the death of a student in Northern California, three school employees were charged with involuntary manslaughter.

In November 2018, 13-year-old Max Benson became unresponsive at school after investigators say a special education teacher restrained him in a face down position – for nearly two hours.

He died two days later at a hospital.

“There’s no excuse not to have some training if you know you are working with a kid who is vulnerable or prone to having aggressive behavior,” Rochester Autism Center Supervisor Stephanie Johnson said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects 1 in 59 children in the United States. Experts in South Eastern Minnesota say the situation was preventable – and that’s what makes it so upsetting.

In Rochester, it stirs a call to action.

“What can we do different? How can we move forward?” RTAAF Executive Director Elizabeth Mangan questioned. “And I think there is a lot we can do differently that can be impactful.”

Number one for local experts: education about the developmental disability.

“We just need to help to continue to do that and to do that more and to do that better, so we can help prevent situations like that,” Mangan said.

Others agree.

“De-escalation is so important to teach,” Rochester Autism Center Supervisor Jaclyn Burton said. “How can we bring that kid down from a 10 to a one? And knowing what helps that child calm down because more often than not putting hands on a child makes it worse.”

Autism is not always clearly defined

“Sometimes autism can be invisible,” Johnson said.

And every case, is different.

“If you know one person with autism, you know one person with autism,” Mangan said. “If you know a red head, you know one person with red hair, if you know one person with Alzheimer’s you know one person with Alzheimer’s, right?

Experts add that language and space can be key – when dealing with a tantrum or episode from a person with autism, often times the best thing is to give them is space until the moment has passed – and call for back up to ensure everyone’s safety. In Minnesota, there’s a variety of training opportunities across the state.


Beret Leone

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