Teaching Special Needs Students about Abuse

Michael Willard Smith
Michael Willard Smith

Teaching Special Needs Students about Abuse
By: CJ Cassidy

PEMISCOT COUNTY, Mo. - Heartland News has learned new details about the South Pemiscot teacher's aide accused of having sex with a male student.
Court documents accuse 51-year-old Michael Willard Smith of having several sexual encounters with a special needs student dating back to March.
In one instance, investigators say Smith paid the teen $20 before taking him home.
Smith goes back to court next month.
Teaching your kids about inappropriate behavior by adults can be difficult, but it's an even greater challenge when you're talking to a child with special needs.
According to court records, the teen felt comfortable enough to talk to a student teacher about the alleged relationship he had with Michael Smith.
That conversation happened just last week and helped lead to Smith's arrest.
It's a case that has a lot of people asking a lot of questions.
"It's sad when you get someone who takes advantage of of somebody they can't think for themselves," said Michka Hubbard, a teacher herself.
She wants to know why anyone would abuse a child, particularly a special needs child.  But that's exactly what Michael Willard Smith is accused of doing.
He allegedly abused a student he came across at South Pemiscot, away from the school campus at his home in Steele.
The South Pemiscot School District didn't hire Smith; another district did.
The Pemiscot Special School District hires employees like Michael Smith and then assigns them to work in different schools with special needs students.
Investigators say Smith worked at the district for about seven years.  School leaders meanwhile, did not have a comment.
"You're like a parent when parents aren't around," Hubbard said. "You're supposed to take care of them."
But there's always a chance someone could cross the line.
That's why Tammy Gwaltney with the SEMO Network Against Sexual Violence says parents must talk to their children about the possibility of abuse and that includes those with special needs.
"Kids are always ready to talk with their parents.  But a lot of the times, the parents are not comfortable with discussing such a sensitive subject with their children," she said.
Gwaltney explains any child can communicate, whether it's through pictures or dolls or another way.
Parents and guardians should just be willing to listen.
"If children can't communicate traditionally, there's a tendency for people not to believe them, and that's not right," she said.
Another disturbing fact, nationwide, one in four children will be sexually abused before they turn 18, so if you think someone's abusing a child you know please take it to police.  You can even stay anonymous.
Investigators say they're still investigating the Michael Smith case and that it's far from over.