Powhatan boy with autism to receive national award

Published: Apr. 12, 2016 at 6:04 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 22, 2016 at 7:54 PM EDT
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POWHATAN, VA (WWBT) - By all accounts, Alex Campbell is a pretty extraordinary fifth-grader. He's rubbed elbow with Virginia's lawmakers, testified in front of two General Assembly subcommittees, and has a signed letter from Governor Terry McAuliffe.

On Thursday, Alex's list of achievements will grow even longer when he is recognized with a national award from the Council for Exceptional Children for self-advocacy.

"You need to tell somebody if you don't like something, and don't let people walk over you," said Campbell.

That's a lesson the 10-year-old learned early on. Alex has autism, and when he was in first grade Alex says he used to do what he calls, "silly things" in class.

"If I didn't know how to do a math problem I would scratch it out, or rip up the paper," Campbell said.

As punishment Alex's principal would send Alex to sit alone, for up to hours in a converted storage closet called the crisis room.

"I was sad, and I was confused because I really didn't know why I was in there," said Campbell.

At the time, Virginia didn't have any laws regulating the use of restraints or secluding a child with disabilities in a classroom. Therefore, the school was not required to notify Alex's parents any of numerous times he was sent to the crisis room over several months.

"I told them that I hated school and did not want to go back to the crisis room. My mom and dad did not know I was being sent to the crisis room,"  Campbell said.

Alex's father, Sean, says when he started asking the school questions about the crisis room, Alex was dismissed from the school. However, Alex wouldn't be silenced. With the help of ARC of Virginia, he wrote his book, which then inspired two bills on seclusion and restraint signed into law last year by Governor McAuliffe. Alex's story was even read during a hearing for federal bill on the same issue.

As for Alex, he doesn't plan on standing down anytime soon. He wants to become a lawyer when he grows up, for two reasons.

"To help people fight for civil rights, and I like arguing," he said.

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