Father says autistic daughter mistreated by teachers, records classroom

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WACH) - A Columbia family says their autistic daughter was being verbally abused by her teachers and decided to launch their own investigation.

Chris Cook and his wife, Carolina, say their six-year-old daughter Valentina is a highly-functioning young person with autism who is a happy child with a calm demeanor.

"At the beginning of April though that started to change. We noticed that she was hostile, she started wetting her pants," said Cook.

The girl's father also says Valentina used to love going to school, but started crying when it was time for her to go to class.

The Cooks say they appealed to officials at Satchel Ford Elementary School where Valentina is a special education student. Not satisfied with what they heard, and suspicious something was happening in class, they say they attached a digital voice recorder to the girl's bookbag and gathered almost 12 hours of classroom audio.

WACH Fox News initially obtained excerpts of the tape that appear to indicate teachers mocking Valentina's speech patterns, and taunting her with words her parents say she uses as "stimming," a common trait in autistic children who use repetetive actions in response to sensory overload.

The portions of the recording initially obtained do not indicate what happened before or after these alleged incidents. WACH Fox News has since received the entire 12-hour recording documenting a two-day period from Valentina's classrom in mid-May. We plan to review the recording to provide more perspective about what lead up to those excerpts.

"Special needs kids are going to wet their pants, they're going to be non-compliant, they're going to be loud, they're going to get up out of their seat and run around," said Cook. "But, that is absolutely no excuse for a teacher to treat them with aggression."

Richland School District One officials say the incident is under investigation, but due to privacy concerns are not commenting on any disciplinary action, only saying the teachers in question are still employed.

"Any time we receive or a parent voices a concern or files a complaint including a complaint against a teacher or another district employee, of course we take those matters very seriously as we are doing with this matter," said district spokeswoman Karen York.

The South Carolina Autism Society estimates 42,000 people in the state have autism, but their website points out that could be a "conservative figure." The site also says that while great strides have been made in understanding the disorder, a good portion of the public still does not fully understand autism and how it impact behavior, including members of the medical, educational and vocational fields.

The Cooks say they plan to enroll Valentina in another school next fall, possibly a private school geared to serving her needs, and hope what say they found will start a discussion about how schools address the learning differences of special needs students.

"If this brings attention to school officials and to the state department of education to do more to train our special needs teachers than that's what needs to happen," said Cook.