Felony Charges Dropped Against 12-Year-Old Student With Autism
“This is a national issue where we're criminalizing behavior of people with intellectual disabilities,” the child’s mother warns.
A judge in Georgia has dismissed two felony charges filed against a 12-year-old student with autism for making terroristic threats after he said he was going to firebomb his school.
On January 29, Jadon Ringland was in a science lesson at his Hightower Trail Middle School special education classroom in Cobb County. “He said at school, he was going to get a fire bottle, a bottle with gasoline and fire, and burn the teachers and the school,” his mother, Tovah Ringland, told WGCL-TV.
Jadon’s teacher filed an incident report, which notes the boy was taken to spend 20 minutes in a sensory room. He allegedly told the teacher he “sometimes like to get in trouble at school” as a way to “get out and go home to play in my computer all day,” the report states.
Jadon was then put on administrative suspension.
According to Tovah Ringland, her son likes to play Red Dead Redemption with his brother and the boy got the fire bottle concept and phrasing from a main character in the video game and then repeated it at school.
She explained that a coping mechanism called “scripting” is one diagnosed symptom of her son’s autism — a developmental disorder “when a child repeats a word or phrase he has heard elsewhere, such as from a television program or movie. The child uses the phrase out of context, and it is not used in an attempt to communicate,” according to the CDC.
A week after the incident, Tovah Ringland said the court notified her about the felony charges filed against her son. The mother, however, claimed the school did not follow proper protocols outlined in Jadon’s behavioral intervention plan.
“They're supposed to ask him if it's pretend or real,” Tovah Ringland said of the boy’s comments in class. “They didn't do that. They contacted the officer who came and got him for a timeout and then pressed charges.”
When the mother asked him later if his comments were real or pretend, she added, “He said pretend — a video game.”
A Cobb County judge and assistant district attorney both agreed to dismiss the case against the child on August 9.
“This is a national issue where we're criminalizing behavior of people with intellectual disabilities,” Tovah Ringland said, according to People. “My son has intellectual disabilities and we're criminalizing his behavior. That's terrifying.”
Jadon reportedly no longer is allowed to play Red Dead Redemption and he is enrolled in a new school.
Prior to the charges against the boy getting dropped, the Cobb County School District provided WGCL-TV with a statement. “Special education teachers in Cobb are experts who understand the individual needs of our special education students,” a spokesperson said. “Training and behavior specialists are already part of the high level of service provided by our staff who follow the guidance of the Georgia Department of education when working with families to create a student's Individual Education Program (IEP).”