Whose Planet Is It Anyway?

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Nate Tseglin: A Time to Heal

January 12, 2007.

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.

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  • I've been watching the family's yahoo group for quite awhile, and when the news came across this morning, it was like coming up from underwater. I know he's got a long haul ahead, but I'm just so glad he's back with his family.

    By Blogger Erica, at 7:06 PM  

  • Thank God. He's home.

    By Blogger Joeymom, at 7:29 PM  

  • Great summary of the case and the consequences of the writing off of autistics as burdensome. ASAN is doing some amazing, important work.

    By Blogger Bev, at 7:35 PM  

  • I'm glad that's over for Nate.

    I didn't know the detail about the arms. When we had trouble with our school last year, one of the things that made me ballistic was that, on a report, his teacher had labeled our guy's picking and scratching "self mutilation." We went to the doctor the same day to get a note stating that the doctor saw no signs of self mutilation. I then threatened the school with legal action for making a medical determination without a license. I was worried about exactly what happened to Nate -- help from the government. I guess my fear was well founded.

    As you say, however, the real bottom line is that there needs to be legal recognition of the fact that being autistic is not the same as being incompetent to make decisions about care and self determination by yourself and with your family.

    By Blogger VAB, at 7:47 PM  

  • What can you expect from the school systems? Especially in California. Presumptuous teachers and slimy administrators who push for mediocrity. How typical of state mental institutions, considering the government basically works for the pharmaceutical industry. Child protective services is full of fascist perverts who coordinate with those other entities and look for any reason to take a child away. These authorities, when they do things like this, should be thrown in jail in tiny cells, with no commode but just a metal can.

    By Blogger lurker, at 1:09 AM  

  • I'm glad Nate is home also. I'm sure that this was a terrifying ordeal for him. He may not be very trusting of others at this point.He needs to know that he can trust again.

    "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."

    That's exactly right.I often hear people talking about these being different issues and they are not.

    Institutions and the financial prisons disguised as "disability insurance" are described as help rather than a burden by those that are the main decision makers. This places burden on those that are seen as less desirable and eventually on everyone else too.

    If the effort was made to educate each person each according to their real need, this would be a financial benefit rather than what is described to cause a deficit.

    By Blogger Ed, at 8:10 AM  

  • Well........

    I'm very glad that story had a happy ending.....

    Hopefully we will be able to uncover and spread stories of people who are still in bad circumstances.....and force better conditions for them.

    The Integral

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:03 PM  

  • This I could expect - and have known of - in Finland, but never in America.

    Well done to the ASAN lot: we need that sort of thing in Finland.

    By Blogger David N. Andrews MEd (Distinction), at 12:58 AM  

  • That shouldn't have happenned to Nate and I'm glad he's home. But I'd like to point out that this kind of thing doesn't ust happen to autistics, or just developmentally disabled people. It also happens to people who are genuinely mentally ill. People with real delusions and/or hallucinations and/or desires to seriously injure or kill themselves need help but they do NOT need to be forced to take drugs that they are allergic to.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6:53 PM  

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