Libby McCullough on her Son, Aspergers and the School to Prison Pipeline

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It began with “he doesn’t need Special Ed.”

After that, it included numerous suspensions, hours in locked rooms, delayed meals, restraint and, later, handcuffs. It included endless meetings for his Individualized Education Plan (IEP), numerous phone calls at work, tears, family medical leave, medications that did not work and the loss of TWO jobs in only three years. It included endless research, assumptions about my parenting skills, retaliation, and ignored requests. It also required labels such as EBD, SEBD, and others. But it never included P.E., art or music, field trips, making friends with kids at school or learning challenging materials.

It meant thousands of dollars for private school, an independent evaluation paid for by a different county system, more phone calls and emails to the Georgia State Department of Education. It took eight years for my local school system to believe what I knew was true about my child all along: That he is bright, hard working, and could handle being in class with typical kids.

Finally, in the 7th grade, my son is happy and healing. He is now in a gifted math class which is co-taught, and in other classes with typical children. This is the same child who was handcuffed the year before for disruption of class in a setting which was not appropriate for him.

My son has Aspergers syndrome, a form of autism. A person with Aspergers is usually extremely sensitivity to light, sound, touch and is very aware of personal space. They usually have difficulty with social skills and show intense interests.

Because people with Aspergers have fairly advanced verbal skills, it is more difficult to notice their disability. In my son’s case, the school system had incorrectly evaluated him, so he was forced into a class for Emotional Behavior Disordered (EBD) children.

People with Aspergers or “Aspies”, as their culture calls it, are logical, practical and intelligent but can experience sensory overload in certain classroom situations. This neurological difference is not a mental illness, yet school officials placed him with children who have mental illnesses and behavior problems. Because of this decision, he was bored, frustrated and had become increasingly depressed.

On this downward spiral, he was soon labeled Seriously Emotional Behavior Disordered (SEBD). Once forced into this category, he was made to attend the Georgia Network for Education and Therapeutic Services, or (GNETS). At one point, he was restrained and locked in a room. Although officials now regulate this kind of restrain and seclusion, the curriculum is still below standards. They had no accountability then, and they have none now. My child had learning differences and felt like he did not fit in anywhere.

If it were not for my education, my Lord, my family and a great middle school principal, my son would have been in court or in an institution by now. I learned how to advocate, and how to speak up for the rights of my child, and now I help others.

If you know a child with an IEP, go read more about it. Help them and their families advocate. They might not have an IEP, but they might have a 504 Plan allowing preferential seating, extra time on tests, etc.  If so, they have a disability. Find out if they are experiencing discrimination or bullying. Ask them if they need an advocate. They may need a meeting, a Behavior Intervention Plan, better curriculum, or smarter goals. They may need to file a complaint. Their parents may be undereducated and may have trouble understanding their rights.

Often parents are handed a four-page flyer to inform them of their rights, typed in a tiny font, filled with legal jargon. Most parents do not have the resources they need to keep kids out of the School to Prison Pipeline. The more you know, the more you can help them avoid the Pipeline.

13 thoughts on “Libby McCullough on her Son, Aspergers and the School to Prison Pipeline

  1. My son has asbergers has been found competent to stand trial. He has a problem with flashing his private area. I have looked for help for him for over.10 years. No one has addressed this problem. They have never worked with him with this. I’m not sure what OS going to happen to him o am just physically ill worrying about this.

  2. I’ll comment now for everyone. I have begun utilizing the Civil Rights complaint through the U.S. DOE Office of Civil Rights. It is much cheaper than Due Process, and it is taken more seriously by school districts. When my reasonable requests in writing are ignored, if I believe results are needed I file a complaint. Sometimes nice works, but when it does not, it is time to turn up the heat! I had to tailor my issue in terms of civil rights, and access to the same type of instruction. Look up the terms Free Appropriate Public Education and Least Restrictive Environment at

  3. So sorry you and your son had to endure all the pain, but I am glad he is happy at school now. That means a lot!

    We have an awful school system who responds in many of the same ways as yours did. Many parents in our county KNOW the law and our children’s rights, but it seems no one is interested in holding the school system accountable.

    The schools refuse to put our children in “typical” class rooms, ignore doctor’s and therapist’s diagnosis etc. How can we MAKE them do what they are supposed to do? They use every loophole in IDEA to refuse services.


  4. This same child woke up at 6:30 this Saturday morning on his own, before watching cartoons, and finishing his homework that is worth 2 test grades in his regular biology class where he also has an A. He told his teacher he wanted to make sure he got it done, and then this morning told me he wanted to make sure he got it back to class safely. Now that the school understands him, they treat him differently. He loves his teachers and his school. He is figuring out what he likes to do and owning his education. Education has become important to him.

  5. Great comments:) Appreciate all of your kind words! Yes, Dad FourKids… agree wholeheartedly.

  6. It is tragic beyond comprehension that people with neurological challenges are permitted to be the last sub-group of our society for whom discrimination is permitted. Sometimes this is simply caused by ignorance, which, while still unacceptable (especially when demonstrated by highly educated individuals) at least can be understood. Other times it is the result of the actions of the “bean-counters” who would gladly look the other way while children are thrown under the bus, so long as it saves money, which is reprehensible beyond rationalization. We are so smug in the US in our progressiveness, our social support programs, our standard of living and our dominance of the global food chain, and still an estimated 18 million children will be significantly bullied by peers and adults in society to the point that it is damaging to them; many of these victims will be the neurologically challenged. Victims who did not deserve their harsh treatment, who did not do anything to cause them to be different, who did not ask to be born at all.

    To paraphrase three of the greatest individuals I know of:

    “The least among you shall be first in my Father’s eyes” – Jesus

    “A society can be best judged by the manner in which they treat those members least able to defend themselves” – Ghandi

    “And in the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but rather the silence of our friends.” – MLK, Jr.

  7. Libby,
    That is a wonderful article. I am so thrilled that he is finally in a wonderful environment and is thriving! You have been extremely helpful to so very many other parents I feel sure. Thanks so much for sharing the article, and for being such a great, proactive mom!

  8. Hello Libby – This was forwarded to me by Ed Lyon and of course I remember you, so I read it. My son also has Aspergers. We are in Oregon and so far, he has had much better luck. Largely because I am a big mouth and have never doubted his intelligence or my gut. I have tried many things. Some were helpful and I would be happy to talk to anyone you want to send my way. But for them, and for your son, we tried neurofeedback and it has made a noticeable difference. Calmed his hyper system and his stuttering, enhanced his interactiveness, etc. I highly recommend it. Also, the book “House Rules: by Jodi Picoult. Good for outsiders too. Find me on Facebook if you like. And congratulations to you both for persevering. You are both very lucky to have each other. Aspies rock!

  9. We are going through something similar right now… our son’s formal diagnosis is PDD-NOS but he is very Aspie-like, with the sensory sensitivity and other issues. He is the only child I know personally to have been suspended multiple times while in kindergarten. He is now in fifth grade and in his last month of elementary school. We are very worried about him going into middle school. He has an IEP but he still gets anxiety over bad situations especially with special area classes like music and library. All prayer is appreciated. Next IEP meeting is May 16, including a middle school representative, to plan for next year. We need wisdom.

  10. I failed to mention that advocates helped me on this, and I will be eternally grateful for their time and expertise.

  11. Thanks for putting into words what so many families experience. I’m going to share your story with my family so they can better understand.

    Have you seen the bill just re-introduced to congress called the “Keeping All Students Safe Act”? This bill goes so far to protect our kids. BUT the definition of seclusion is in a locked room w/o any safety information!? This bill offers so MUCH MORE than exists right now but how can we live with a LOCKED seclusion room? I want to support this bill so much but maybe with just a few tweaks :-)? Gotta dream BIG.

    Advocacy is a great way to turn a negative into positive but it sure is a tall mountain to climb. The kids need our protection. And, we need to be brave for them.

    Sending a (((hug))).

    🙂 a Mom in Maine

  12. My story and your is very similiar. Although my school system still does not totally get it! My daughter is adhd and their practice is to call the police and they lie alot. Its been a nightmare for us , its nice to know that you are not alone.

  13. My heart goes out to you and your son. To have Aspergers and be placed in that situation must have been utterly terrifying. We hope that the schools are getting better at identifying, understanding, and providing appropriate accommodations for all children with learning disabilities and special needs. But in reality, budget cuts are so deep the resources are drying up. There are fewer teachers and resources for mainstream classrooms and the reduction hits special needs even harder. School districts are denying IEPs and you have to wonder if they’re doing their best to provide accurate assessments. Until the financial resources are in place it’s up to parents to strongly advocate for their children and make sure somebody listens. You’ve proven how difficult that can be. Getting at least one person at a school to recognize a student has unique needs can go a long way. There’s an education reform movement finally waking up. Hopefully everybody will realize that ALL kids should be included in the reform. Thanks for advocating and educating!