sexual act classroom Summery Putnam Nathan autism autistic East Ridge Tennessee DHS Tim Hensley bodily autonomy five-year old
Photo Courtesy of Summery Putnam

Five-year old Boy With Autism Punished In School For Hugging Classmate In Tennessee

A kindergartener from East Ridge, Tenn., was chastised for giving a classmate a hug. Nathan, a five-year old boy who has autism, was accused of committing a sexual act after he hugged one student and kissed another on the cheek, according to Yahoo News.

The incident occurred three weeks ago at East Ridge Elementary School.

Summery Putnam, the boy’s mother, said the teacher also told her that Nathan’s behavior was inappropriate and that she was filing a report with Tennessee’s Department of Child Services (DHS).

“I was sick to my stomach because first of all don’t you understand he’s a 5-year-old,” Putnam told WTVC. “He’s a child.”

Related Story: TD Bank: World Autism Awareness Day: “I Am Proud”

She also disclosed that the teacher called her to advise her that she needed to “have a talk with her son” about boundaries.

Nathan’s form of autism makes it difficult for him to understand social cues.

Debi Amick, Nathan’s grandmother, posed a question on Tennessee’s WCTI News Channel 12’s Facebook page from her personal account.

“What do you when a 5 year [sic] child is being labeled a sexual predator and accused of sexual harassment by the school system?”

It has not been determined if the school or the teacher were aware that Nathan was autistic before the incident. Bodily autonomy is an important concept to teach children- especially to young children. While a five-year old child hugging another child should not be considered a sexual act, bodily autonomy is an important concept to teach children — especially young children.”

According to the State of Tennessee DHS website, there are four instances when a school or teacher should file a report. Those instances are sexual abuse, psychological harm, neglect and physical abuse.

Hamilton County DHS spokesperson Tim Hensley described Putnam’s account of what happened as a “mischaracterization of the incident” and further stated that the information given by Putnam was not correct.

According to the statement released by Hensley on the school’s behalf stated, “It was not a hug or a kiss that prompted the school to contact the family.”

“The district is bound by student privacy laws that do not allow us to discuss publicly specific details of what happened in the classroom setting with the child.”

Ultimately, Nathan was transferred to a special needs classroom.

Understanding autism can be a challenge. Autism is a condition that affects the neurobehavioral aspect of the brain. There a multitude of symptoms that accompany the disorder and boys are more likely to have the disorder than girls. Some children with autism are high-functioning pupils that may need extra guidance in a classroom setting.

It is imperative that educators have proper training so that they are well-equipped to handle the special, individual needs of children diagnosed with autism.

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