5-year-old with autism reportedly punished for hugging his classmate, family says

A young student at East Ridge Elementary School in Tennessee

September 25, 2019, 11:35 AM

A Tennessee kindergartner with autism was punished for giving a hug to his classmate, according to his family.

Summery Putnam said she received a call three weeks ago from her son's teacher at East Ridge Elementary, who said "you need to have a talk with Nathan about boundaries," she told ABC Chattanooga affiliate WTVC.

"I was sick to my stomach," Putnam said.

Putnam, who is Nathan's legal guardian, said that the 5-year-old has autism, which can make it difficult for him to pickup and understand social cues.

"If you don't understand how autism works, you'll think he's acting out or being difficult," Putnam told WTVC. "But, that's not the situation."

PHOTO: In this undated photo, East Ridge Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tenn. is shown.
In this undated photo, East Ridge Elementary School in Chattanooga, Tenn. is shown.
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She also said that one teacher claimed Nathan was overstepping boundaries that allegedly included hugging a child and kissing another on the cheek.

A spokesperson for the Hamilton County Department of Education, disputed the family's claims of what happened.

"The issue for contacting them had absolutely nothing to do with a hug or a kiss," Tim Hensley told ABC News, arguing the school did not punish the child.

"Our interest in working with the family is in helping them to grow and learn," he added.

Hensley said by law he could not discuss what happened in the classroom.

Since the incident earlier this month, Putnam said her son has switched classrooms, teachers and is enrolled in special education services.

Summery Putnam and East Ridge Elementary did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.