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12-year-old student with autism charged with felony

By Ciara Cummings

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    COBB COUNTY, Georgia (WGCL) — A Cobb County 12-year-old student faces felony charges after threatening to burn people and property at his school. But, he has Autism and his family argues, the proper protocols for students with disabilities were not followed prior to charges being filed.

Jadon Ringland’s family told CBS46, he was only repeating what he saw and heard in a video game, repeating phrases is a diagnosed symptom of his disorder, also known as “scripting.”

“We don’t want him to think he’s a bad child,” Tovah Ringland said. The mom explained how her son is completely unaware of his felony case.

Autism is a developmental disorder which causes physical and verbal behavior challenges.

In Jadon’s case he experiences “scripting,” or formally named Echolalia. Experts often cite scripting as a coping mechanism, CBS46 found. The action causes him to repeats phrases or words from anything like songs, movies or even video games, according to Ringland.

Jadon’s favorite video game is Red Dead Redemption, a game he played with his older brother to bond. Clips posted online show the main character creating what the game calls “fire bottles” with gasoline then burning everything his path. Jadon read it that way in an online description of the game too.

Tovah Ringland believes there is no doubt her son was “scripting” moments from this video game, back on January 29th while in school.

“He said at school, he was going to get a fire bottle, a bottle with gasoline and fire, and burn the teachers and the school.”

Emails show the teacher notified Ringland about her son’s comments made in his special education classroom on January 29.

But Ringland told CBS46, it wasn’t until February 5th she got a call explaining charges were filed.

“They’re supposed to ask him if it’s pretend or real. They didn’t do that, they contacted the officer who came and got him for a timeout and then pressed charges.”

An incident report obtained by CBS46 confirms the charges.

CBS46 found, a Behavorial Intervention Plan (BIP) for Jadon, or special procedures for special education classrooms which outline guidance for interactions.

In Jadon’s plan, it outlines when there is verbal disruption, “i.e. making threats to kill or harm” staff should “prompt Jadon use expected language” by asking is that a movie quote or real life?”

“I asked him was that pretend or real, he said that was pretend– a video game.” Again, the Cobb County mom says officials did not ask him whether he was pretending or being real.

Now, a hearing is set for August 9th but the family feels this is no court matter. Ringland argues had the teacher followed the BIP, they would have confirmed Jadon was scripting.

CBS46 reviewed email exchanges from the teacher and the mother from that day, there was no reference to the process being followed immediately after Jadon made the alleged threats. The emails do reference the teacher reviewing the BIP for earlier incidents in the classroom.

Although Jadon says he was just repeating moments from the Red Dead Redemption video game, according to the teacher’s email, he admitted that he ‘liked to get in trouble at school.’

“Those scripting behaviors come out when they’re under-stimulated or on the other side is when they’re over stimulated,” says the Marcus Autism Center’s Psychologist and Behavorial Health Specialist Deva Carrion. Carrion helps train Georgia teachers and districts on ways to meet the needs of special education students.

She is not connected to Jadon’s case at all, but the expert says students like him can rely on scripting as a coping mechanism for being afraid, overwhelmed, or confused.

Carrion says sometimes discipline disparities can be the result of an educator’s understanding or possibly lack thereof.

“They’re [teachers] trying to use those typical discipline practices with children who don’t understand their own behavior.” Adding, “the teachers are doing the best they can with what they’ve got.” But Jadon’s mom fears the possible reality of her son being a felon.

“Our prison systems are full of people who are disabled. People with mental health problems. People who are disabled and we don’t want to get there.”

The Cobb County School District did not interview with CBS46, but a spokesperson provided this statement.

“District staff and Cobb School Police are familiar with the administrative suspension during which District policy and administrative process was followed. Further details about the student’s discipline record and nature of the suspension is not publicly available. District staff has also been able to confirm criminal charges were initially filed by Cobb Schools Police, additional charges were filed by the Cobb County District Attorney’s office (for an incident two weeks prior), and parental notification occurs through the legal system.”

CBS46 found a formal complaint which outlines the charge as well as citing another incident, two weeks prior, where Jadon is accused of saying he would shoot up the bus. But the family claims, they are not aware of any such incident happening.

In an additional follow-up request about cobb county teacher training and whether protocols were followed, a spokesperson added:

“Special education teachers in Cobb are experts who understand the individual needs of our special education students. Training and behavior specialists are already part of the high level of service provided by our staff who follow the guidance of the Georgia Department of education when working with families to create a student’s Individual Education Program (IEP).”

CBS46 reached out to the Cobb County District Attorney, requesting information on whether the charges could be dropped.

We have not heard back.

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