Parents say autistic teen largely to blame for classmates' taunts

The parents of some teens accused of mocking their autistic classmate in videos posted online defended their actions, saying the victim was largely to blame.

After WHO-TV aired a report about the video, which showed classmates taunting 13-year-old Levi Null, who has Asperger syndrome, while teachers turned a blind eye, the station said it received more than 100 emails from parents – many of whom sided with the other students.

“I would say three-fourths of this stuff he brings on himself and probably a fourth of it is bullying that shouldn’t be going on,” said Levi Weatherly, whose child is accused of posting the video online.

Parents said involuntary movements caused by the teen's Asperger syndrome, a form of autism had upset other Melcher-Dallas High School students, but one parent said the boy could probably control his actions.

“He called my nephew a nasty name and my nephew Cole cocked (sic) him in the mouth. I’m proud of my nephew for doing that,” said Jamie Harrison in an email.

The school’s principal told Null’s mother in an email that the behavior shown in the video does not amount to bullying, although two students were disciplined and the video was reportedly deleted.

According to the state, "'harassment' and 'bullying' shall be construed to mean any electronic, written, verbal, or physical act or conduct toward a student which is based on any actual or perceived trait or characteristic of the student and which creates an objectively hostile school environment."

But Principal Josh Ehn told WHO that it’s the students’ responsibility to handle instances of bullying.

“We try our best to educate our staff, to educate our students to react to the cases, to investigate the cases we have,” Ehn said. “But ultimately, it’s got to come down to the kids to take ownership for this and to stand up for the kids who can’t stand up for themselves.”

School Board President Bob Lepley said he sided with Ehn, as well.

But Levi’s mother, Dawn Simmons, said the case had made her a target of abuse from some other parents, including “lots of Facebook messages, posts, families fighting battles, arguments over the community, the school, the staff – it’s been a very frustrating day for all of us.”

But she noted that two of the students had apologized to her son, saying they hadn’t realized how their actions affected him.

Experts said children with autism aren’t able to turn their symptoms on and off, and their condition was expressed in different ways from person to person and depending on their situation.

They may sometimes respond to the environment that they’re in and respond more strongly than they may at other times,” said autism specialist Evelyn Horton.

Watch this video report posted online by WHO-TV: