GARY, Ind. -- One family is in disbelief after a Northwest Indiana teacher gave their child with autism an award that appears to mock the 11-year-old.
While other kids were given positive awards such as "most improved" or "funniest," Rick and Estella Castejon were blindsided when their 5th grade autistic son was given "most annoying" at Bailly Preparatory Academy in Gary.
The Castejon said they view it as public bullying by their child's special education teacher.
Akalis Castejon, 11, is non-verbal autistic. Occasionally he rocks back and forth, or shakes, traits the family feels special education teachers at Gary's Bailly Preparatory Academy should be familiar with.
"You'd think one would know and understand the conditions of autism and have more patience to deal with children who suffer from autism," Estella said.
"I didn't want to cause a scene with other parents there, so I left the award on the table and tried walking away, but the teacher came back and said Akalis forgot his award," Rick said.
Rick said he is thankful his son does not understand what the award means.
"When they called him up he was just excited to get a gold star because it was shiny," he described.
Estella, who did not attend the awards lunch, went to the school the next day demanding an apology. She never got one from the teacher or the principal, however, the school district did apologize.
A written statement by Dr. Peter Morikis reads in part: "The Gary Community School Corporation does not condone this type of behavior and will continue to put the safety and well-being of our students first."
The Castejon's hope this is a lesson for people, especially teachers, to understand children with autism.
"He just wants to be like everyone else. He is like everyone else, the difference is he cannot express himself like every other person does," Estella said.
In the written statement, the Gary School District said disciplinary action was taken against the personnel involved, although the district will not disclose the employment status of Akalis' teacher or her identity.
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