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Monday, May 05 2014 07:39 PM

Witness: Autistic girl in alleged sexual assault case was smart

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BY RUTH BROWN Californian staff writer rbrown@bakersfield.com

A former teaching aide testified Monday that an autistic girl allegedly assaulted at Independence High School was smart and did understand some of what was happening in class, despite her severe learning disability.

The testimony was elicited to bolster claims the then-15-year-old girl understood what happened to her and therefore suffered trauma.

The girl, whom The Californian will not identify as the alleged victim of sexual assault, was found naked from the waist down in an Independence bathroom with an autistic teenage boy in October 2009.

Monday was the fourth day of a civil trial in which the girl's family is suing the Kern High School District over the incident.

Believing the girl was sexually assaulted, it wants KHSD to pay for the years of counseling and speech therapy she may need.

It remains unclear exactly what happened in the bathroom and whether any potential activity was rape or consensual sex. Both of the teenagers have severe speech disabilities.

KHSD argues it's not convinced the girl was sexually assaulted and in any case, her severe autism prevents her from comprehending what happened.

But a 2008 Individualized Educational Plan progress report said the girl did understand some words if she had context clues, knew that reading was done from left to right and understood basic who, what and where questions, according to evidence presented by the plaintiff's lawyer Monday.

Patricia Acajabon, formerly a one-on-one instructional assistant for the girl, testified Monday that the teenager was aware of what was happening in the classroom most of the time.

The family's attorney, Ralph Wegis, asked Acajabon about journal entries she wrote to tell the girl's mother about her progress every day.

The entries noted that even a year after the incident, the girl at times cried when she entered the bathroom and cried throughout the day.

The alleged victim's parents say they saw regression in their daughter's behavior.

Earlier in the day, Patricia Young, the district's former coordinator for special education, testified about how she learned of the incident and how it was handled.

The family has criticized KHSD for discovering the two in the bathroom around 11:15 a.m. but not notifying the girl's parents for more than five hours.

Young said she offered to tell the girl's parents because she knew them, but Independence administrators said they were "handling it."

Young couldn't recall if the school had said it called or were going to call the teenager's parents.

Young also discussed the girl's progress reports, saying the who, what and where answers she could give were very basic. She said the girl had a pre-kindergarten intellectual level.

"I believe (her parents) thought she wasn't speaking as much," Young said, referring to the time after the bathroom incident. "But we noticed no change. Because she didn't speak."

Young went on to say that when she did speak it was unintelligible "babbling."

The trial resumes today at 9:30 a.m.

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