Through special events, government protests, and other news, the world now recognizes the Internet as a valuable medium for getting important messages to the masses. The simplicity of sharing on the Web combined with its viral nature makes it very easy for stories to get really big, really fast.
A perfect example of this happening is the story of a 9-year-old autistic boy from Kentucky that was allegedly put into a bag for misbehaving. According to the boy's mother, Sandra Baker, the Mercer County Intermediate School called and said her son Christopher was "jumping off the walls" and that she needed to come and get him. When she arrived at the school, she found her son in the hallway in a bag.
"When I reached the end of his hallway, all I saw was this big green bag lying in the middle of the hall floor with the aide sitting beside of him," said Baker. "It wasn't just his body down in it and his head out, his whole body was down inside the bag."
After the local news outlets reported the story, Lydia Brown, an autistic college student at Georgetown University, saw it and created a petition on Change.org. The petition calls for the school to take action against the teacher involved as well as provide comprehensive training for all school personnel.
As an advocate for autistic individuals, Brown told us that she felt compelled to create the petition because what had happened to Christopher was "abuse and torture and wrong."
"It'd be wrong to do to anybody, not just to somebody who's autistic," she continued.
This move can largely be credited with online spread of this story. In just two days, the petition exceeded 10,000 signatures and began circulating all across the Web. Brown told us that the story started spreading through the autism community, then reached broader disability communities, and was eventually picked up by people who have no connections to autism or disabilities.
"By the time that this hit the national media, it had already been splashed all across the blogosphere," said Brown.
"When you hear that someone put a kid inside of a bag, that kind of makes people think, 'What just happened?' "So, I was not really surprised that that's how the story got out."
Baker told us that she did not expect it to go as far as it but said she was extremely thankful that it had.
"That just touches my heart to know that there are that many people who care," she said.
As fortunate as the spread of this story has been for Baker and Brown, the incident has also raised some controversy regarding the bag that was reportedly used. Some people from the autism community defend the school and the teacher's action saying that bags are often used in therapeutic treatment for autistic individuals.
These specific bags are called Abilitations BagOBalls and are filled with multi-sensory balls or other soft objects to encourage sensory integration. According to the product description, the BagOBalls is used in conjunction with "playtime or quiet time." However, according to what the school told Christopher's mother, he was put into the bag for misbehaving, which results in another point of contention with the case.
Amy Dawson, the Founder of the Autism Advocacy & Law Center, LLC, spoke with us and said that the use of seclusion or restraint could have a very harmful and negative impact on any child, but especially one with disabilities.
"The use of seclusion and restraint can really harm a child, any child, but especially a child who has autism and may not be able to communicate and explain to parents what has happened or even understand what is happening to him or her," she said.
She, instead, recommends a form of treatment called behavior analysis and said that roughly 48 percent of children that get this type of therapy will experience a "good degree of independence."
Even though there is some debate around the story, it is still gaining a lot of attention. The petition now has over 180K signatures and is continuing to make national headlines.
Last week, Sandra Baker presented the petition to the Mercer County Board of Education hoping to see the action taken, but nothing happened. The school board says it has concluded its investigation and is putting the incident behind it.
James Gallini, who is leading the legal team made up of The Gallini Group in Alabama and Chevalier Ginn Shirooni & Kruer in Kentucky, told us that they would soon be filing a complaint with the Kentucky Department of Education on behalf of Christopher. In a statement, they said:
"It is disheartening that the Mercer County Board of Education has shown little to no concern over this incident and has taken steps attempting to justify the events of December 14, 2011."
Gallini also asked that anyone who wants to help to contact their representatives and ask for the finalization of the Keep Students Safe Act.
Until the incident is resolved, Christopher's mother told us that she is not sending her son back to the school. He is currently being educated through homebound services from the Mercer County School district.