The current cultural movement that insists ill intent in many normal encounters continues to ensnare those with autism, who are unable to read the social cues of others.
The family of 5-year-old Nathan Putnam says their son has been punished, “labeled a sexual predator” and “accused of sexual harassment” for hugging a classmate and kissing another one on the cheek. Nathan, who has autism, is unaware that what he is doing is unacceptable.
“What do you do when a 5 year child is being labeled a sexual predator and accused of sexual harassment by the school system? It was disclosed that it will go in his record for the rest of his life that he is a sex offender,” Nathan’s grandmother, Debi Amick, wrote on Facebook, according to WTVC. “This child is austic [sic], he comprehends and functions very different than your typical 5 year. What do you do? Who do you turn to for help when the school will not even listen to the child’s doctor when he explains the child’s difficulties in his comprehension of simple things such as boundaries.”
The outlet spoke to Nathan’s mother, Summery, who said she was “sick to my stomach” after a teacher called her and said: “You need to have a talk with Nathan about boundaries.”
“If you don’t understand how autism works, you’ll think he’s acting out or being difficult,” she told the outlet. “But, that’s not the situation.”
Hamilton County Department of Education spokesman Tim Hensley told WTVC in a statement that “School personnel are required to [sic] concerns regarding children to the Department of Child Services (DCS)” and that it’s “up to DCS to determine if those reports are acted on by DCS and what form those actions may take.”
Putnam told the outlet that Nathan has switched classrooms and teachers and is now enrolled in special education services.
Nathan is hardly the first autistic child to be punished for his condition, but he currently appears to be the youngest. In 2015, there was the story of Brian Ferguson, then a 20-year-old student at Navarro College in Texas. Ferguson, like Nathan, has autism, and would hug his friends and kiss them on the top of their head since, at 6’5”, he towered over them. One day Ferguson saw a woman who looked like his friend, so he went up to her and hugged her and kissed her on top of her head. The woman, however, was not Ferguson’s friend. Ferguson was expelled for “sexual assault” because of the kiss on the woman’s head. After a national backlash ensued, Ferguson was re-admitted to the school and even met with the woman whom he allegedly assaulted. She wasn’t the one who reported him, and never wanted him punished for what she called a “peck,” but school administrators witnessed the interaction and stepped in.
In 2018, Marcus Knight was investigated for sexual misconduct for giving a woman a “fist bump” and taking a selfie with another. Knight has autism and cerebral palsy and routinely tried to make friends with the two gestures. While taking a selfie with a woman, he accidentally hit the “burst” feature on his phone’s camera, which instantly took about 200 to 300 photos. The College Fix reported another woman reported Knight for a “fist bump.” She later changed her story to claim Knight had “hugged her, sat very close to her, grabbed her with one hand, and with the other tried to get her hands onto his upper thighs.”
Knight’s mother, Aurora, said the new version of events seemed physically impossible given the photos Marcus had with the woman. Still, Marcus was investigated and denied the ability to participate in his own defense. His mother set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for Marcus’ defense. His suspension has since been lifted, but the school refuses to remove the investigations from his record.