Local behavioral advocates are worried about how a recently passed Senate Bill will affect students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other disabilities.
Krystal Barker, owner of CPB Behavioral Therapy and Advocacy Services, LLC, said the Virginia Autism Project brought the issues with SB 36 to light. “They actually spent the entire General Assembly period fighting against this bill,” she said.
Barker said SB 36 is a bill that criminalizes violent behavior. “Anything that happens in school that is aggressive in nature or that results in a fight, or any sort of physical action now gives principal the ability to call law enforcement,” she said.
Barker noted the issue with the bill is that it does not discriminate between kids with disabilities and kids without disabilities. “This is a quote from the bill: ‘that a principal is not required but may report to the local law enforcement agency any such incident committed by a student that has a disability,’” she said.
Barker said the biggest concern she has with the bill is what happens when a child with a disability is in a crisis moment. Barker noted that many children with ASD or disabilities will use violent behavior when in a crisis moment or when they are overstimulated.
“Essentially, under this bill that behavior can result in law enforcement intervention,” Barker said. “The child can be arrested with the way that the bill is written with the exception of this one sentence, and this one sentence leaves it up to the principal’s discretion as to whether or not law enforcement will be called in those types of instances.”
Barker said the bill needs more than the one sentence to protect children with disabilities. “Because this is a manifestation of their disabilities,” she said. “They can’t necessarily control it.”
As an autism advocate, Barker said she is not worried about the schools in this area but believes some students might be missed in the shuffle if they have not yet been diagnosed with a disability or don’t have an Individual Education Plan (IEP).
In Northern Virginia on July 1, the very first day the law went into effect, Barker said children with disabilities who were having aggressive behavior, whether it was in school or on the bus, had law enforcement called on them by their school systems.
“In the cases I read about, parents intervened, and the kids were not arrested, but there’s not always going to be a parent to intervene or an officer that’s going to listen” or understands disabilities, she said.
Barker said the potential risks don’t just affect children with ASD, but also Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “We’re seeing more and more kids that have ADHD that have the behavior component,” she said. “There are also kids that have emotional disturbances or emotional disabilities that have the aggressive component.”
She added that the timing of the bill is unfortunate as the country is in a mental health crisis as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information, go to cpbbehavioraltherapy.com or Facebook.com/CPBBehavioralTherapyandAdvocacyServices,LLC.