A special education teacher is fighting against allegations of “inappropriate behavior” towards one of his students, an 8-year-old boy who has autism. The accused, Leo Bennett-Cauchon, admittedly hugged the child when he asked. “I’ve been trained, if a student asks for a hug, you give a hug. I admit completely that I hugged him and let him sit in my lap when he said ‘sit’,” relates Cauchon to the press. “This is a child that needs that physical contact.”
Reports the Manteca Bulletin, Cauchon related that hugging the 8-year-old was completely within the professional scope of his work, was ethical and was “in conformance with the student’s parent and the language in his individualized education program.” It’s a method that is used to help socially integrate his students, Cauchon told zoomdune.com Feb. 24. Growing up, many children with autism do not learn how to be social in the same manner as other children. In grade school, kids are socialized in how to speak with others, take turns, maintain personal space and boundaries, but children with autism may not have had the same socialization. It’s Cauchon’s job to reward, say, a formerly nonverbal student when s/he communicates and sometimes that reward might come in the form of a hug. It’s language that such a child can understand. Since we live in such a touch-deprived society, it is then the teacher’s job, after positive social interaction habits are in place, to help the child understand that in the outside world, something like a hug might not be as acceptable as something like a high-five, fist bumps or a handshake. But those things come later and not everyone understands the process.
To many looking on, including some of the paraprofessionals who may not have experience with autistic children, shows of affection such as the ones Cauchon has given in his classrooms are deemed as inappropriate. Tell that to the young boy’s mother, Sharon Anaya, though, who fully supports the special ed teacher. While allegations against him have gotten Cauchon indefinitely suspended from his job, supporters, mostly parents such as Anaya, realize the importance of Cauchon’s work and have joined the teacher in protest following his daily vigil and fast in which they all maintain his innocence, reports Autism Daily Newscast, Feb 22.
Anaya for one, considers Cauchon as a grandfather to the 8-year-old child and he’s the type of grandparent who has the kind of patience and training needed when the child becomes aggressive or out of sorts. Anaya entrusts Cauchon with the care of her son, even outside of class. In fact, while we spoke with the special ed teacher, the young boy was in the room.
School district representatives relate that they are just trying to ensure that moral standards are upheld and that the students entrusted to their care are being well protected. Cauchon says this has happened before, but never has it been escalated into a police investigation.
According to the Manteca Bulletin Feb. 24, Cauchon will meet with district officials about his case on Wednesday. According to Cauchon, these dates have since changed. Initially they were to meet on Thursday but now the meeting is being held over till next week. This is a long awaited meeting, especially considering that Cauchon was given a notice of leave from work on Feb. 3.
“I would like to thank Sharon for her ongoing support,” wrote Cauchon on his Facebook page, Feb. 19. He further related that all of the students in his class “need the consistency of his return.” He reiterated over the phone that the kids need the consistency of the full team’s return, as well. Since Cauchon has been suspended, two of the professionals who had been working with him and his class have been relocated.
According to USA Today, Cauchon has been working as a special education teacher for 16 years, which seems to suggest that the teacher knows what he is doing. When asked by Examiner how long he’s been working in his current district, he replied that he had been there for at least eight years. However, according to the police, investigations into Cauchon’s past behavior are still underway. “Police in this Northern California town said Tuesday they’re investigating the possibility there were ‘repeated acts of inappropriate behavior’ and ‘there could be multiple victims,’ wrote USA Today.
While the investigation takes place, Cauchon protests with a sign that reads “Let me teach. Bring back the joy,” in hopes that his students’ consistency can be returned. Along his side this week walk some of the parents of children from his class.
Others can show signs of support, as well. Cauchon wrote on his Facebook page the following: “We all could use the support of people contacting the district office.” The contact information can be found here.
For those concerned, officials and all, Cauchon asks that “for the sake of the children, the loving and supportive team that Sharon recently transferred her son to should be allowed to do its work while the investigation does its thorough but very slow job.” All in all, he relates, “The children need to be the first concern.”