A young boy with Autism has been suspended from school for seven weeks
“Ellen and Justin, we are drowning. There are days that we’ve treaded water, but we’re drowning now, and not just in tears.”
This heart-wrenching letter, written to Ellen Degeneres and Justin Trudeau on Mar. 15, was shared over 1,000 times on Facebook. It was written by Sheila Quinn, whose 13-year-old son, Angus Sévigny, was suspended from school.
Angus has Autism Spectrum Disorder, a neurodevelopmental disorder which in his case, causes him to have trouble communicating verbally.
Quinn dedicated this letter to Trudeau and Degeneres because she said this wasn’t the first time that Angus was suspended from École du Touret, a specialized school for children with intellectual impairment in Sherbrooke, Quebec. Since the beginning of the school year, Angus has been out of school for seven weeks, said Quinn.
The decision to suspend Angus “indefinitely” was because of an incident that occurred between her son and a psycho-educator. She was told that “Angus kind of kicked at [the psycho-educator], and then [Angus] threw himself down on the ground and [Angus] threw his shoe at him.”
“I don’t think he had a particularly good relationship with the person who was intervening with him that morning. […] But you know, I’m not faulting him. I’m just saying that I want to look at the bigger picture,” Quinn said.
She also explained that during this time, Angus was in transition, which Quinn said is the hardest time for people with intellectually-related challenges such as Angus. Being in transition is when students are going between events, between two different activities or between two different time periods, she said.
“In Angus’ case, what I want to really focus on is not the fact that there was an incident and that he acted out in an aggressive manner, I want the emphasis to be on not the predictability or the unpredictability of autistic-related behaviour,” she said. “What I want the focus to be on is that my child was really frustrated, and he doesn’t get aggressive at home.”
She explained that in this situation, the issue isn’t what Angus did, it’s what the school didn’t do: pay attention to the triggers, which were never mentioned.
“They don’t ever come up with, ‘well we are trying to understand where Angus was coming from, and these are the different possibilities of what we think may have been an issue.’ They never mentioned that, ever, and that’s crucial,” she said.
The school held a meeting on Mar. 21, announcing that Angus could possibly return within a month’s time.
They said they want Quinn and Angus’ father, Clinton Sévigny, to use this time to build a new routine that they have with the school. But they also said they will only accept Angus back if they see that they have incorporated these routines at home and see a change in his behaviour, according to Quinn.
In order to help out the family, Alex Bélanger, a special care worker, has been looking after Angus since February. Bélanger has previous experience working in a specialized school for children with autism at École Sainte-Anne in Sherbrooke, Quebec.
He said that because of his special care experience, part of him can understand why École du Touret suspended Angus. “The school can’t spend days with children that need one-on-one care because they have more than two kids in their class,” he said.
He also said that when a child is not able to be receptive in the class, whatever the reason may be, they should not be attending class because it might affect other children in the class with the same behaviour. However, Belanger said it’s also difficult for any family to go through something like this because they still have to go to work and can’t watch their child during the day.
Quinn’s family is facing financial pressures, and this is not uncommon for other families in similar situations, she said. The family needs to pay for babysitters and services. “There are days where it is costing us $100 for the day,” she said.
She knows another autistic child, around the same age as Angus, who was sent home because she was not participating. “She’s an autistic completely non-verbal child who’s getting sent home because she’s uncooperative. Her dad and I had this conversation and he said, ‘she’s getting sent home for being herself,” said Quinn.
A possible solution, Quinn said, would be putting Angus in a group home. Although she would have wanted to do that for Angus when he was older, the situation that her and her family are in make Quinn feel like this may be their only option, she said.
Bélanger also said more work needs to be done in order for the rights of autistic people to be met. “I do believe that there will one day be an organization that will provide help to children with autism, such as having two or three children living together with their specialist in an environment where they have everything that they need,” he said.
The letter Quinn wrote to Trudeau and Degeneres included a metaphor of Angus’ love of Disney, and how the nature of Angus’ need for services means the family cannot dream anymore, Quinn said. In light of this, Quinn’s childhood friends Paul and Karla Appelbom wanted to help the family continue dreaming, so they started a “Go Fund Me” campaign to send Angus to Disney.
Angus responds to anything Disney-related, said Quinn. “It is the driving force of his existence, I’m sure it’s always going to be, I don’t know how that would ever shift to something else,” she said. However, after discussing the campaign further with her family, Quinn said she felt the funds would best serve Angus if invested in a communication system. She decided to forgo the trip to Disney World and instead put the money towards a better communicative system for Angus, called GemIIni. The video-based series will help teach Angus how to communicate, Quinn said.
“I always see light at the end of the tunnel, like Angus is an awesome kid and to be honest, today he is a lot easier to care for than a lot of other kids,” said Quinn. “So I always have hope for everybody because I think that’s the way to be.”
It has come to our attention that in the original version of this piece, several quotes and statements were taken out of context and we have since made the edits to the piece to ensure accuracy of the information. We would like to issue an apology to Quinn, as well as École du Touret. The Concordian regrets the error.