Big changes for a mom and her son on the autism spectrum after he was voted out of class

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla - It was a story that had people talking: A Treasure Coast kindergarten student voted out of class, a teacher defending her actions, the mother of the child on the autism spectrum outraged.

It happened six years ago, and for some of those involved, much has changed since then.
Alex Barton, is now 11-years-old, and like most other kids his age, he enjoys playing video games.

But in 2008, Alex was in a St. Lucie County kindergarten when he was sent to the principal's office for disrupting the class. When he returned, his teacher told the other kindergartners to vote on whether he should stay.  They voted him out of class.

"I felt it was an opportunity just to show all my students there are consequences, said teacher Wendy Portillo at a disciplinary hearing in 2009. She was suspended without pay for a year. The school superintendent said she should be suspended and not terminated, because her record was spotless.

"I still am astounded that the reaction was so widespread," Alex's mother, Melissa, says today. "It was an international story for a long time."

During the ordeal, Alex was  diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism. Today he's in the sixth grade at a regular school making the honor roll. He wants to be a lawyer when he grows up, and he's already looking forward to taking courtroom classes.

"I'm pretty excited about that," he said.

The experience has resulted in a change for Melissa too. She's now the director of the local chapter of Autism Speaks.

"It did develop something in me. It developed a passion to step up to be more than just a mother of a child with autism, but to be an advocate," she said.

In retrospect, she says what happened to her son at school that day brought her to where she is today.

"It definitely taught me a lot as a parent, as a person about humanity, about people, about the system, politics, I learned a lot."

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