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The body sock for an autistic kid: Trickle down torture in Columbus City School

Bob Fitrakis
March 31, 2013

First, we were desensitized to water-boarding at Gitmo and electrical shocks to the genitalia at Abu Ghraib. Now torture has trickled down to elementary schools in the U.S. with the “body sock” for autistic kids.

Recently, Naqis Cochran, a ten-year-old autistic child, was restrained with a device known as a “body sock” at Columbus’s South Mifflin Elementary School. The Sock served as Naqis’ punishment for laughing during class. This restraining device is made of stretchy, purple lycra material that is zipped to cover a child’s arms, legs and head. While zipped inside the Sock, the autistic boy fell on his face and knocked out a permanent front tooth, requiring two emergency root canal surgeries.

The teacher told WCMH-TV in Columbus that she instructed Naqis not to move with the Sock on. Again, Naqis is autistic and asthmatic, a point stressed repeatedly by his parents Asad Shabazz and Amatullah Shields on my Talktainmentradio.com radio show last Wednesday. Just like with water-boarding, any person would tend to panic when their head, arms, and legs are encased and zipped into a physical restraining device.

Imagine your reaction if somebody put you into the equivalent of a straight jacket with a hood completely covering your face. The last time I heard of similar techniques is when I was monitoring the torture of dissidents by the fascist government of El Salvador in the 1980s and early 90s.

When the parents made a lawful request for public records related to the incident, the South Mifflin School principal told them that no such documents had been filed. Neither was there a record related to Naqis’ injury, nor was the emergency squad called after he fell and knocked the tooth out. His mother stated on the radio that her child is not violent and, due to his autism, would have a difficult time defending himself in any way.

“It doesn’t make any sense to put a restraining device on my special needs child,” she stated, “I feel it is child abuse.”

Naqis’ father noted that neither he nor his wife had authorized use of the body sock and were completely unaware of it. “It was not in Naqis’ IEP [Individual Education Plan],” Amatullah said. “They never told us that he did anything that required restraint.”

Another Columbus City School student’s mother has a similar story: “My son attended Winterset Elementary School and they put him in a similar body outfit that restrained his arms. I was not scheduled to visit but had to drop something off for my other son when I found him in that restraining suit. The teacher said that she had to restrain him because he goes after her coffee. Unbelievable. My son has a seizure disorder as well.”

Dennis Spisak, a 20-year school principal, elected member of the Struthers City Board of Education, and the father of two autistic children, pointed out that “Such devices require specific training and many autistic children, including his son, recoils from being touched. The use of any such device with his son would be unacceptable.”

Spisak stressed that if the child is falling over in a body sock and knocking out his teeth, it is clearly negligent supervision.

Columbus City Schools are currently under fire for two major scandals: the altering of students’ achievement records to improve the district’s rating and corruption charges involving No Child Left Behind tutoring centers. In recent years, the Columbus School Board moved its meeting time to hours during most people’s normal work hours making it difficult for parents to attend. They also banned people from speaking on any issue unless it is an issue to be voted upon at that meeting. One well-known school activist, the late Jerry Doyle, was arrested for trespassing at the podium after they granted him permission to speak and failed to notify him of the new policy. He spent 90 days in jail and subsequently a week without his diabetic medicine, which caused a leg infection and amputation prior to his death shortly after.

Putting kids in body socks is unacceptable even for the Orwellian school administrators in Columbus. It is an outrageous, overreaction to a child’s behavior, unless you’re conditioning them for accepting torture from an authoritarian regime.

In this perfect storm of casual torture, burgeoning ranks of autistic kids, and cover-ups by the Columbus City School system, it remains clear that parents and the public need to demand that the practice of using body socks immediately stop.

Our tax dollars should not be spent on torturing kids. Special needs kid must get the services they require, not child abuse they don’t deserve.

Bob Fitrakis is editor and publisher of The Free Press.