Sam Lindsey didn't have therapy that morning, so the day began more leisurely than usual. The 3-year-old was up with his mother, Joyce Lindsey. By 7 a.m. he'd bathed, had breakfast and watched videos. Interactive time was especially important since he'd been diagnosed with the learning disorder apraxia; on this day, they used a Finding Nemo children's book about the little blue fish's day at school.
It was late September 2006. Sam had been going to his Lee's Summit preschool program for a month. He hadn't yet been diagnosed with autism, though he would be one year later. Lindsey had hoped that the school would place him in a regular classroom. Instead, administrators assigned him to a small class with two other students, both diagnosed as autistic. He'd been regressing ever since. She wasn't happy but had agreed to the placement on a trial basis, figuring that school officials needed an opportunity to see how Sam would do in the setting. She was worried. At the start of the school year, Sam had been able to use five words: no, cookie, more, please and yes. Within two weeks, those words had begun to drop away, and now he spoke in shortened approximations. When Lindsey held up a cookie, hoping to coax him to ask for it, the best he could do was cough out a chu sound.
"I thought they would come around and see that this wasn't working," Lindsey recalls. "At that point I still thought the school was on my side, that they just needed to try a few things and find what was best."
At 12:30, she told him it was time for school. Sam's class ran from 1 to 4 p.m. Normally he was happy for any reason to take a car ride. Today he refused to move.
"Come on, what's the problem?" she asked, getting an arm under him and dragging him to the car. In response, he started a high-pitched squeal, "Eeeee! Eeeee!" He screamed all the way to school.
When they arrived, Sam was quieter but still sullen. Because parents are not allowed to walk their children to the classroom, they waited near a play area. When a class aide came for him, Sam clung to Lindsey and began yelling again, burrowing his head just below her chest.
Confused about his behavior, Lindsey pushed him toward the aide. The aide grabbed him and tried to calm him, but Sam raised his arms above his head and flung himself from side to side like a wet noodle, shimmying out of her grasp, his blue Finding Nemo backpack bouncing against him. He ran back toward Lindsey, but the aide got him again. This time she held on. Sam screamed, "Eeeee!" all the way to the classroom.
Lindsey kept him in the school until April 2007. In the fall, Sam's diagnosis was changed from apraxia to autism. He lost the use of more sounds until he was virtually mute.
Now, not much more than a year later, she claims that the Lee's Summit School District denied Sam the services it should have provided and ignored his severe regression.
She's not the first parent to seek legal action against Lee's Summit School District for its treatment of autistic students.
Missouri school officials consider the Lee's Summit district to be among the state's best for autism education.
At the fore of its program is Jerry Keimig, the district's 55-year-old director of special education. He's had the job for eight years. Before that, he spent six years employed at a Kansas psychiatric hospital and nine as director of special services for the Grandview School District.