Nate Tseglin: A Time to Heal
That's when Nate Tseglin, who was only 16 years old at the time, was forcibly taken from his family's home in San Diego, California. It was the beginning of a nightmarish ordeal of captivity in a state institution where Nate was forced to take indiscriminately administered drugs that caused him to have seizures, was cut off from contact with his family and friends and community, and was prevented from completing his high school education. His crime? Being autistic.
When Nate, who had been a bright and thriving child in mainstream classes before beginning high school, got tested for an Asperger diagnosis, his parents no doubt thought it would help him to get a more understanding and accommodating school environment. Instead, the label turned out to be a ticket to blatant discrimination and exclusion. School officials treated Nate as incapable. Although Nate had been successful in honors classes and had even taken a college course over the summer, he was prevented from enrolling in advanced high school classes and was required to repeat work that he had already done.
Not surprisingly, Nate became anxious and depressed as a result of such mistreatment. He developed a bad habit of picking and scratching at his arms. His parents sought psychiatric help, but Nate could not tolerate the drugs that were tried. After that, his parents sent him to another school. A teacher saw the scratches on his arms and made a report to the local child protective agency, which investigated. Although the parents explained that Nate was physically unable to take several common psychiatric medications, no one listened, and the parents were accused of neglect. Nate was then sent to an institution where he was forcibly medicated with drugs that caused his health to deteriorate severely.
In desperation, the family turned to the Internet for help. Concerned bloggers and activists wrote about the case, contacted the media, and helped to arrange for legal assistance for the family. After many delays, a court hearing was held on May 27th, 2008. The Autistic Self Advocacy Network sent a letter to the court explaining why Nate did not belong in an institution. The judge ruled in Nate's favor, and Nate finally was freed after more than a year away from home.
There are some autism advocates who seek to get funds for services by touting flawed analyses that proclaim every child on the autistic spectrum will cost millions in lifetime care. This is what I have to say to anyone who sees nothing wrong with that strategy: You'd better take a good hard look at Nate Tseglin's case, because that is exactly where such rhetoric leads. If autistics are nothing but an expensive burden to society, then why bother educating them or providing any community services? Why not just dump them all in institutions so the normal folks won't have to be bothered with them? Why not put most of the funding into eugenics research, in the hope of wiping them all off the planet? That's where it leads.
Today, Nate Tseglin is in the thoughts and prayers of many people worldwide as he begins the slow process of healing—to the extent that it is possible to heal—from the extreme mental and physical trauma that he endured.
Today, there are other autistics even unluckier than Nate still languishing in institutions, forgotten by the world. Let us keep them in our thoughts also.