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A MOM FIGHTS TO PROTECT THE DEFENSELESS

She did it because she is a mother, and this is what any mother does: Loves and protects her son. Especially when that son needs his mom more than most 12-year-olds do.

That's how it is with autistic kids. They may hug a stranger, but some have a hard time putting in words -- even to a mother -- when something is wrong.

Ronna Glickman knew something was wrong last December. Andy started saying things like "shut up" and pulling away when it was time for school. Like any autistic kid, Andy can be a handful -- refusing to do things, saying "no" time and again. But this was different.

"It wasn't like him to act like that," said Glickman, a career skills teacher at Casey Middle School in the Williamsville district.

She is 43 with corn silk hair, the caring way of a teacher and a take-care-of-business attitude. Imagine a big sister with a giving heart.

Andy's troubles burdened that heart. There was never a problem at his school. The only other time he wasn't with her was during the 12-minute bus ride. There were just three people on the small yellow bus -- the driver, an aide, and Andy.

She sewed a microcassette recorder into his backpack. Just before he got on the bus one morning, she pushed the "record" button.

The tape solved the mystery. Captured on it were the voices of the aide and driver taunting Andy, saying things like "I love aggravating him" and "I'm gonna (bleeping) punch his lights out."

The tape led to the firing of the driver and aide, an apology from the bus company and, after a little while, the return of Andy to the sweet, untroubled kid he had been.

That's where Andy's story ends, and the larger story begins. It's the story of how a mother's caring became cause for a crusade.

Ronna Glickman knows that there are a lot of "Andys" out there -- kids with special needs who need kindness from all the adults in their lives. If this happened to her son, it could happen to other children like him.

"It's a blind trust," she said. "You send them into the world and hope that everyone else takes as good a care of them as you do. But there's no guarantee."

It is bad enough when a typical kid is bullied or abused, but at least there's a chance he will speak up. Kids like Andy are different. You can ask, but -- most of the time -- they can't tell.

Since Andy's story was first reported, about a hundred people -- many of them parents of special-needs kids -- e-mailed Glickman (safebus@hotmail.com) or Channel 2. Most said the same thing: I've always been afraid to put him on the bus.

Ronna Glickman has thought of a way to protect all of them, now and forever: Put video cameras in the buses of kids with special needs. Andycam.

It works for everybody. It protects the kids from abuse, the bus companies from bad workers and the school districts from costly lawsuits. It protects good bus drivers from false claims of bad behavior.

She hired a tech expert, contacted media and called public officials.

"What gives me strength," said Glickman, her eyes brimming as she talked about Andy's mistreatment, "is knowing something good can come of this for others."

Glickman will ask school districts to sign onto the Andycam idea. Jim Hayes, the state assemblyman, is behind her.

"It's in the interest of kids, parents and the districts to do this," said Hayes. "If that fails, I'll push for a law."

They would call it Andy's Law. It started the way a lot of these things do -- with a mother's love. Now Ronna Glickman wants to wrap it around all of the Andys, wherever they are.

e-mail: desmonde@buffnews.com