Local Student With Autism Faces Bullying, Head On

An Andrew High School 15-year-old tormented on a summer school bus ride was not looking forward earlier this month to today's kick-off of the academic year. The Tinley resident, who is autistic, had several wads of gum stuck in his hair by peers.

If Josh Howorth could relay one message to the bullies at his school, he says he'd tell them, "I'm used to it."

Although has been good to Josh, who is autistic, the 15-year-old wasn't exactly looking forward as summer school wrapped up in July to the start of the academic year. .

Sign up to receive a free, daily e-newsletter from Tinley Park Patch.

The sophomore's reluctance to return to his regular routine stems not from a demanding class schedule or intimidating workload, but from a July 24 afternoon bus ride between summer school at Carl Sandburg High School and his pickup location at Andrew. That day, several students decided to take their bullying to the next level, said Josh's mother, Eileen Howarth.

"I picked him up and there was a big wad of gum in his hair," she said. "He said he thought (the other kids) were throwing paper at him. He knew something was happening but he doesn't really … he's not confrontational like that with people. He's not going to yell. He had his headphones on."

Eileen immediately took her son to get a haircut, at which point the stylist discovered that he had not one, but close to a dozen pieces of gum stuck throughout his hair. All—particularly one larger mass—had to be cut out individually.

"Of course, he had been trying to pull it out," she said. "For people with autism, there's a sensory issue there. His head is the most sensitive part of his body. Getting a haircut has always been an issue. It's traumatic for him."

Josh's latest run-in with bullies wasn't his first. His mother said the two moved from Chicago in the Summer 2011 to get out of the Chicago Public School system where Josh's peers regularly tormented him. They made fun of him for a bag he carries, he said, and even called him gay—teasing that's carried over to Andrew High School, he said.

"It's painful," he said, seated on a picnic bench outside of a local coffee shop. "Especially what happened with the haircut. … If you're a bully, you're wrong. They're pretty much gangsters in terms of how mean it is."

Eileen was looking forward to sending Josh to Andrew, she said, and has not been disappointed with the school's attention to detail when it comes to his autism.

"They've honed in on his interests academically," she said. "He's said he likes it a lot better. My only issue is some of these other kids."

Eileen was working at the end of July on getting a copy of surveillance footage from inside the school bus to help identify those responsible for throwing gum in Josh's hair, she said. She was also talking with Andrew High School deans. On July 30, she filed a police department at the .

"It's about accountability," she said. "The kids need to own up to what they did and their parents need to know. … Parents need to educate their kids about special needs and not just that. You're not within your right to do something to someone else with intent to hurt them. Putting gum in someone's hair is not a joke."

Spokesman Carla Erdey said a variety of staff members including counselors, students, deans and teachers are called in to combat instances of bullying.

"Any circumstance that's brought to our attention is investigated fully," she said. "Providing a safe and comfortable learning environment for all of our students is incredibly important and all of our staff take that very seriously."

Among those is Mike Murphy, head dean at Andrew High School, who has been helping get to the bottom of the July 24 incident. He declined to reference the circumstances specifically per district policy, but discussed how bullying is typically handled at the school. Prior to his eight years as dean at Andrew, Murphy was a school social worker, he said. 

"Any time we're aware of any misbehavior of a kid towards another kid … bottom line is there has to be some type of investigation," he said. "Bottom line, it's our job and our goal to protect kids. We want kids to feel like they're safe in school and in a safe environment."

He said the police department has a reciprocal agreement with the district in that if a student breaks the law outside of campus, officers notify deans and vice versa. A juvenile detective, commonly known as the School Resource Officer, is also on hand.

"Society is reactionary," Murphy said. "I always say, what do we do to be proactive in terms of talking about the concepts of misbehavior, harassment, bullying, is the most important. Otherwise, we rely solely on trying to hold kids accountable through the consequence system."

The best thing parents, teachers, mentors and students can do to prevent bullying is to make personal connections and relate specific experiences to behavior, he said. 

"If kids, in particular, can make those connections, they are able to walk in other people's shoes and tell how that person feels," he said. "If someone doesn't understand the impact of their behavior, they don't think about these things until after the fact. The trick is, we talk about these things before they happen."

Bullying should be handled using a community approach, he said, not merely a school approach. Parents, coaches, neighbors, church pastors and camp counselors need to be involved in these conversations, he said, adding that cyber bullying is increasingly prevalent. 

But Murphy has noticed a change in students' sensitivity to bullying, he said.

"Over the last eight years, I would say that I've seen more and more kids speak up and say things about the behaviors and misbehaviors of somebody else," he said. "Kids are more accountable and responsible to each other in terms of what they're willing to tolerate from other kids. They have to realize, 'Hey, I can't do this because guess what? I'm judged by my peers as well.'"

Eileen's hope is that such accountability continues, she said, emphasizing that Josh and others with disabilities are "different, not less."

"This isn't about stringing these kids up and giving them the harshest punishment," she said. "It's more that I'm not going to tolerate this against my son ever again."

Like us on Facebook!

Sarah Bobis August 20, 2012 at 05:46 AM
I know I'm perhaps a bit late on commenting, but as an Andrew alum who has been bullied in the past, I can honestly say that the school is doing their best. It would take a small army to effectively bully patrol those hallways, especially when they're crammed with hundreds of students who don't seem to understand the consequences of their actions. Sure, they could call a school-wide assembly, but most of those bullies will text and goof off the whole time. Should they be punished by the school? Heck yes. But the school can only do so much... The true personality is formed at home. Parents need to teach their kids to respect other human beings. I love and respect the deans at Andrew, but they can't do the job of a parent, nor are they superheroes. The funny thing is that they will try to be both. If anyone can find out who the culprits are without punishing the whole bus, they can.
Chester Rook August 20, 2012 at 05:51 AM
I'm with Dr. Bob. Harry is no stranger to looking like a fool. I put as much seriousness and credibility in his comments as I do with Ivent.
Dr. Bob August 20, 2012 at 06:41 AM
I have watched the View, and to be honest, that possesses absolutely no relevance to your argument, nor does it in this one either. You sir are an internet troll, an internet bully, grouping and homogenizing liberals as bullies, and what not in your twisted mind. That is where you went wrong, and why so many readers on this article are coming to my defense and voicing their opinions AGAINST you, because you feel it is okay and acceptable to confuse liberals as "autistic bulliers" which is unfounded, incorrect, and inhumane. Keep your hate message off this chat board Harry, it's people like you, yes you, who bully others for no real purpose, and group people together as if you are a deity. Appears your message is no more different than that of the bullies, Harry, open your eyes.
anon August 20, 2012 at 03:45 PM
It's funny how two people, different names but same grammar are saying their kid was bullied and than they have a kid who is going there in two years. Ironic isn't it?
anon August 20, 2012 at 03:45 PM
It's funny how two people, different names but same grammar are saying their kid was bullied and than they have a kid who is going there in two years. Ironic isn't it?
anon August 20, 2012 at 03:46 PM
It's funny how two people, different names but same grammar are saying their kid was bullied and than they have a kid who is going there in two years. Ironic isn't it?
WarriorMom August 20, 2012 at 07:30 PM
TJ This was physical harassment not name calling
Harry Callahan August 20, 2012 at 09:42 PM
@DR. Bob,How many times do I have to tell you this is not about me its about a kid that was harrassed,but you continue to talk about me,I must have really struck a nerve,maybe it was your kid that was harrassing this young boy or is it plain and simple that you are a lefty liberal nut job.Leave it go already this is a story of a young boy that some made his life miser able.Do you understand!!!!! and that goes for Chester too.
Jane Lellman August 20, 2012 at 11:33 PM
I am appalled but not surprised this happened.....kids can be beyond horrible at times with no consideration for anyone else, and some parents are no better. If these bullies had moms as dedicated to child rearing as Josh's Mom this would not have happened!!! She is clearly exceptional. Sounds like the school official talks a good story, I really hope he follows through on this investigation. Josh and his Mom deserve it!
Concerned Parent August 21, 2012 at 01:03 AM
really??? thats all you can find to contribute to this ????
Sarah August 21, 2012 at 01:14 AM
Peer mediation is actually very beneficial for both the bully and the student being bullied. But Peer mediation only works with a good program, a bully with a conscience and some intelligence, and a bully-ee who can express themselves well. It is not the 'ANSWER' to bullying. But it can be a way to open peers' eyes to what bullying does to people and what it means to work against bullying. It should be part of the response, but not all.
Maryann Boldt August 21, 2012 at 05:48 AM
I would press charges.
Kathleen Johnston August 21, 2012 at 01:22 PM
Enough is enough and we must put a stop to "bullying." Sad that parents continue to turn a "blind eye" when it comes to their children. Don't tell me you don't know whether your kid is a bully or not. Of course YOU do...They show you over and over again and you make a excuses for their behavior...You are an enabler and are just as responsible as they are for the pain they inflict on others...This is not just a phase that kids will grow out of...These bullies continue on the same path into their adult lives..You see them time and again at little league games and other extracurricular sporting events..Maybe if they had faced consequences when they were younger this cycle of bullying could have been stopped. Press charges and make them accountable for their actions. In the long run you maybe doing them and society a favor.
Tara Evans August 21, 2012 at 03:35 PM
Someone needs to make an example of these kids. Someone in an earlier post said that they would have all the kids from the school bus in one room until the people responsible were identified. I totally agree.. and I think the police should be in the room too. Who the hell puts gum in someone's hair, let alone someone with sensory issues and autism? The cops need to do whatever they can, even if it means embarrassing these idiots infront of their peers. I may be crazy, but I feel like Josh was assaulted. In his mind, he was too.. my son has issues with getting haircuts too, and I can't imagine someone having to cut gum out of his hair. It is torturous for them to have to go through all of that. The police HAVE to be able to do something!
Jim August 21, 2012 at 06:54 PM
" Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless! Not to speak is to speak, not to act is to act." Anyone who witnessed this should come forward. The bus driver, other kids on the bus, even one of the persons involved if they have a conscience thats bothering them. Hold their feet to the fire Eileen, this could have been worse. It seems there is only action when things do get worse.
MagtheHag August 22, 2012 at 09:25 PM
Come on Andrew, you have a list of kids that were to be on that summer school bus. Maybe a quick, question and answer session is necessary. Maybe just maybe if it's explained to the right compassionate kid, they will spill the beans. If we do not protect our weakest of people (disabled) we are all going to hell in a hand basket. I have to agree with Tara Evans, maybe all that were on the bus that day need some sensativity training...God knows it won't hurt any of them. Thank You God it was not my kid. I think it's well past the considerate amount of time for the school to do something and contact channel 7 so that maybe they can draw attention to this matter.
Jenny August 23, 2012 at 01:08 PM
The only people benefiting from Peer Mediation is the School. It's the best they can do and eases their conscious'. I've spoken to roughly two dozen kids about the effectiveness of it. All have agreed that it is useless. That once they walk into the hallway the bully uses what was said as more fuel. Schools coddle way to much nowadays. When I was growing up detentions/expulsions got handed out all the time. Kids bullied less since they were scared to do anything wrong. Or go home with a punk slip and suffer the conciquences of their parents. As most of us agree bullies bully because of their own insecurities and/or home issues. They didn't want more negative attention from their parents.
Moonglow August 23, 2012 at 01:36 PM
At the next D-230 Board Meeting, all parents should show up and ask valid questions about this incident, as has been pointed out on this sound-board! If this bullied child doesn't get justice from D-230, then legal action against the district, the bus company AND the bus driver, should be initiated. The bus driver is SUPPOSE to be in charge of what goes on while she has custody of these children on HER bus route!
Moonglow August 23, 2012 at 01:40 PM
The mother should handle it with the school, the District Superintendent AND the Police by filing assault charges on the morons who think its "funny" to physically someone! The school knows exactly WHO was on the bus and should act accordingly.
Moonglow August 23, 2012 at 01:42 PM
Suspension, and/or Expulsion of the perpetrators, should also be in the equation. There is no room for "people" to freely assault someone....... autistic or not.
Moonglow August 23, 2012 at 01:47 PM
Back when I was in grade school in the 50's and HS in the 60's, I was bullied everyday because I was overweight. There was no such thing as bullying or any ramifications for those who thought it was funny to hurt someone whom THEY perceived as "different." Kids are vicious when they can get away with whatever they choose to do!
Moonglow August 23, 2012 at 01:50 PM
When the District gets sued for big money, THEN they will understand. When they have to part with possibly hundreds of thousands of DOLLARS, THEN they might understand to stop the "lip service" and take decisive action NOW.......not a year from now!!! in the meantime, is this child still riding the bus? What happens to this boy in the classroom too? It's a damn shame thaty people are so callous and un-feeling for their fellow human-beings.
June Whitehand August 23, 2012 at 03:28 PM
Bullying is taught at home. Just like the Josh was taught courage. I think it would be appropriate for parents of offending students to have some "re-education". If you teach your children that you think you are better than everyone else & that it is OK to bullying your way into what ever you want, then you should share in their punishment. Would be great to see some of those people in my own community shown that bullying (regardless of who they are attacking) is WRONG.
WarriorMom August 24, 2012 at 01:22 AM
Update: The school as followed through and found out who did it. I have to admit i have a hard time with only one givent he number if kids on the bus. Here is the deal all I am allowed to know at this point is the kid admitted he did it and is remorseful. Yep I am struggling with this still. I am not allowed to know how he was disciplined but that he was. i am still deciding on whether or not to press charges through the police. I still want somehow for these kids to know I will not tolerate any more crap done to my son - EVER. I do hope that parents of other bullied children really push the issue. I would like D230 never to use this bus company again as they put all children riding them at risk and are in violation of their contract. I want to reiterate the school's actions have been honorable to both children as is their responsibility. I have greatly appreciated their support with this issue even beyond the investigation. Though I do not know how this "child" was disciplined I believe Andrew administration and staff do understand the severity and have followed school policies accordingly. I think circulation and comments shouldn't stop because maybe this will help other parents and children come forward. If you were on the bus, if your kids were on the bus please talk to them never be afraid to tell the truth, if your children are hurting others you really need to step up. If your child(ren) are being hurt in any way shape or form - TELL. There is support.
Carol August 29, 2012 at 11:54 AM
I totally agree with June. Where are the parents of these kids that were on the bus. Maybe its time that the parents start to share in the punishment for their kids actions. I'm tired of hearing boys will be boys and what can I do. These are the same parents that say not my kid he(she) wouldn't do that but do something to their kid and they will be knocking your door down.
EK March 26, 2013 at 11:54 AM
I am so happy that you are taking actions to make these students aware that what they are doing is mean and hurtful. I think it is time for schools/ teachers to teacher the rules of inclusion to all students.
WarriorMom June 17, 2013 at 08:45 AM
A little curious why my comment that two more kids put gum in m son's hair AGAIN 2 days for school got out. - I am a little ticked there has been no apology made but because they are juveniles we can't know what happened but certainly that should have been part of it. If we make it through the summer here I will step onto the bus the first time he rides it and let kids know CRAP will not be tolerated in any way shape or form. What the hell is the matter with these kids????????????????????????????????????????????????
WarriorMom June 17, 2013 at 08:47 AM
This is for Josh - http://tinleypark.patch.com/groups/events/p/soap-for-summer-camp
June Whitehand June 21, 2013 at 10:21 AM
You need to press charges, had a similar interaction with our school over a thief. I regret to this day not pressing charges, as the "punishment" the school issued did nothing, and the parents who promised to replace my daughter's belongs also never kept their promises.
E Howorth July 12, 2013 at 07:53 AM
Working on getting my son to a great camp he deserves it!! just sharing link to event: https://www.facebook.com/events/198484250311199/


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something