The state of Hawaii is expected to settle a case for $30,000 after a student with autism and his family sued the state for emotional trauma. The family alleges that instructors at Kailua High School, a public school on the island of Oahu, forced the student, who was 20 at the time, to run on a treadmill until he fainted.
Jeremiah Kahiapo has autism spectrum disorder and was born with two additional neurological disorders, hydrocephalus and spina bifida.
In August 2010, when Jeremiah's mother, Laurie Kahiapo, went to Kailua High, she saw educators dragging Jeremiah's unconscious form, according to Honolulu Civil Beat. Laurie says her son was made to run three miles on a treadmill for 25 minutes twice that day and “pull a weighted suitcase across campus, dressed in a jacket, latex gloves and a weighted backpack,” Civil Beat reports.
Jeremiah allegedly collapsed from low blood sugar and hypoglycemia. Honolulu's KITV reports that Jeremiah had bloody knees and bruised shoulders as a result.
Staff at Kailua High said that Jeremiah's exercise session was intended to be therapeutic.
The nonprofit Autism Research Institute (ARI) considers exercise to be “one of the most effective treatments for autistic people,” citing studies that show “vigorous or strenuous exercise is associated with decreases in stereotypic (self-stimulatory) behaviors, hyperactivity, aggression, self-injury, and destructiveness.”
The institute defines vigorous exercise as an aerobic workout of 20 minutes or longer, three to four days a week. Mild exercise has "little effect on behavior,” according to ARI.
Autism Speaks, an autism advocacy group, also touts the benefits of physical therapy. It notes that “sports and exercise should not replace proven behavioral interventions, but may be effective supplements to these therapies and potentially enhance the benefits.”
Hawaii’s State Department of Education provides special needs students with an Individualized Education Plan, a written evaluation that “serves as a management tool used to ensure that the child received the needed special education and related services.”
Hawaii State Board of Education spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz couldn’t comment as to whether Jeremiah’s IEP was properly addressed or revised based on his needs. The Kahiapos have said they never received an explanation as to why Jeremiah was forced to run on a treadmill until he fainted, or why, according to testimony, the school nurse aide wasn’t called when he collapsed.
Hawaii’s legislature is in the process of deciding whether or not to approve the settlement.