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updated: 12/23/2012 6:23 AM

Parents struggle to control Buffalo Grove 12-year-old's violence

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  • Jessica Clute talks about her 12-year-old son at her home in Buffalo Grove. "He'll tell me he's going to kill me," she says, but, "He later becomes very remorseful."

       Jessica Clute talks about her 12-year-old son at her home in Buffalo Grove. "He'll tell me he's going to kill me," she says, but, "He later becomes very remorseful."
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

The goal of this 12-year-old boy's solitaire card game is to flip over a card and find some way to make it fit into the cards already stacked in orderly lines.

"It's called Klondike. Why would you ever name a game after an ice cream treat?" observes the bright and clever Buffalo Grove boy whose autism lands him in a struggle to be orderly and fit in.

"I would love for (him) to have one best friend," says his mom.

"I don't really want to make friends," the boy says matter-of-factly. "I just want to be alone."

One of more than 2 million Americans diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, this child was expelled from public school because of his frequent outbursts and fits of violence. His parents, who are separated and amicably share parental responsibilities while finalizing their divorce, remain committed and constant advocates for their son. But they struggle to find help in a state that has been cutting funds for programs that assist people with developmental disabilities.

"It's a big story," the boy says of his life up to now.

Living in West Dundee, Jessica and Mitch Clute had been married for seven years when they adopted their son and his two older sisters through Catholic Charities. The boy was 4 years old, wasn't potty-trained, had a vocabulary of maybe 15 words, but could read books, his mom remembers.

"In a messy house," the boy says of his life with his birthparents. "They didn't have any rules. They weren't like my Mom and Dad."

In his new home, the child made immediate improvement. "I was well potty-trained," he notes. He got into a special education program with Community Unit District 300 schools. With the help of a full-time aide, he attended Neubert Elementary School in Algonquin from kindergarten through fifth grade. But he frequently would erupt into screaming fits and violence.

When he was younger, his parents could soothe his tantrums by scooping the boy in their arms, carrying him away and giving him hugs and kisses.

"It's very different now," his mom says of her 5-foot-3, 107-pound son. "He becomes so violent we have to call the police. He has hurt me a lot."

She has gotten bruises from his fists and from things he has thrown. Recently, the boy seemed surprised to discover his kick now packs enough power to leave a hole in the wall.

"He'll tell me he's going to kill me and use a knife to cut my head off or put it in my back," Jessica Clute says.

"He makes verbal threats, but he doesn't mean them," Mitch Clute says.

"I don't know why," the boy admits.

"He later becomes very remorseful," adds his mom, who easily coaxes a hug from her son. "He can be very, very loving. He does say, 'I love you.'"

When news outlets reported that the young gunman who slaughtered children at a Connecticut elementary school was diagnosed with a type of autism called Aspergers, Jessica Clute said she heard from people who worried that her son might one day "do that to me."

Violence is "a major fear," says Mitch Clute, who remembers the time his son came home with a black eye because of a fight the boy didn't realize he was instigating.

Studies show that people with autism are less likely to commit violent crimes than people in the general population and are more likely to be victims. That doesn't make the Clutes' son's violent outbursts any easier to handle.

"I have a gun card, but I would never have a gun in my house because of (him). He can be very scary," Jessica Clute says. She figures she calls the police maybe four times a year, and her son calms down when the police officers respond appropriately.

Having just conducted an autism training seminar for first responders, the Lombard-based Autism Society of Illinois notes that there is no research linking people with autism to premeditated violence. But that doesn't mean suburban families don't struggle with isolated incidents.

"I hear this story over and over: 'We can't control them anymore. We can't get help,'" says Mary Kay Betz, executive director of the Autism Society of Illinois, who urges people to visit or autismillinois.org or call toll-free (888) 691-1270 for more information. "The only way right now you can get services is if you're homeless, abused or neglected."

The Clutes have been on a waiting list for the state's Prioritizing for Urgency of Need for Services (PUNS), which could provide respite services that would give the parents and their daughters a break from the always present demands of caring for the boy. Sometimes he gets out of bed at midnight and will roam the house for hours, looking for snacks or playing video games.

Nationwide, states facing budget deficits have been cutting money spent on people with mental disorders and illnesses. Illinois slashed mental health funding by $114 million between 2009 and 2011, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

At his most recent public school, Jessica Clute says her son intentionally tripped a teacher, toppled a computer, had many episodes of screaming and running down the halls, and smacked a kindergartner in the back while waiting in line for lunch.

"I always like to be first," the boy says. "That is turning out to be a problem for me."

His behavior at school has improved since the district agreed to send him to Laureate Day School, a therapeutic school in Arlington Heights that specializes in the emotional needs as well as the educational desires of students. He takes a cab to school because he acts out when he's on a bus with other children.

The boy still sees the neurologist who diagnosed his autism and his parents say their son has benefited from counseling and therapy. During his first year at Laureate, the boy garnered 91 timeouts in the first four months. This year, he's received only 12. It's a learning process for everyone.

"There are certain things I know will upset him, and I just don't go there," says Richard Bashou, who lives with Jessica Clute and her family, and attends conferences with the boy and his father and mother. He's learned the boy doesn't like loud noises or live music.

Leaving a grocery store this month, the family passed a trumpet player performing Christmas music.

"He couldn't stand it," Jessica Clute says of her son. "He was shouting, 'Shut your trumpet up!'"

Just raising the awareness so that strangers aren't so quick to judge would be a blessing, both parents agree.

"We were at a college graduation and the symphony started playing and he literally got up covering his ears, screaming and running down the aisle and running into people," remembers his dad.

The boy also likes to hoard food and shoplift.

"The stealing is unbelievable," says his mom. "When we leave a store, I have to pat him down."

They can't visit any home with a grandfather clock.

"He has a horrible fear of grandfather clocks. He is horrified," the mom says.

"Not just grandfather clocks, but cuckoo clocks as well," the boy adds calmly. "I thought they were something that doesn't live, but they are. I thought they were only in cartoons, but they're not. There's nothing you can do."

Mitch Clute, who runs Mitch Clute Painting, lives in Elgin, where his son spends every other weekend and every Tuesday night at the library with his dad. When the boy recently realized the library wouldn't be open this Tuesday night because of Christmas, he became upset at the change in his routine. But the dad says the new school seems to be helping his son cope with change.

"They are doing a good job with him and he's doing a good job with himself," Mitch Clute says. "The older he gets and the more mature he gets, things come together for him more and it's more understandable."

Noting that what he likes best about his new school is "people helping me," the boy clearly understands how his unpredictable behavior can result in punishment. "I wish I had my trust back," he says. "I lost it all. Shameful man."

Told that he does a good job of expressing himself, the boy politely replies, "I really appreciate you saying that. Thank you."

His mother and father don't know what will happen when their son becomes a teenager, a young man or an adult with elderly or dead parents. Jessica Clute, an insurance agent with Transamerica, set up a financial plan for her son.

The dream is that with the right care, therapy and research, the boy who needs round-the-clock supervision will become a self-sufficient man. In the meantime, medications seem to be helping.

"My mom says that, but sometimes I don't believe her," the 12-year-old says. "All I need is a drug that will make me happy for the rest of my life."

Seeing the smiles his comment elicits, he calmly adds, "I'm not trying to be funny."

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