Tampa, Florida - Dawn Larsen, 43, of Carrollwood was arrested on Friday and spent the night in jail because her autistic son has skipped too much school. Larsen says during the school year, her son missed about 34 days from Hammond Elementary School located at 8008 N. Mobley Road in
Larsen was charged with violating her probation on a charge of failure to ensure school attendance. A judge recently warned her that her 9-year-old son, Julian, could not miss any more half days of school.
But Larsen says she felt she had no choice but to keep her son home anyway due to the severity of his autism. She says a doctor has diagnosed him with autism spectrum disorder. Her son cannot speak.
She told a different judge in court on Saturday morning that the doctor has written notes explaining that, due to her son's behavior, there are some instances when he needs to be kept out of the classroom and left instead in her care.
Larsen told 10 News that Julian only attends school half a day and when he attended Citrus Park Elementary three years ago she would keep him out of class too at times.
She says, "I would sit in the hallways just in case he'd freak out on a teacher. He gets frustrated because he can't talk. He'd disrupt the whole class and I'd have to take him home and he's not even there for two hours sometimes."
The judge scolded Larsen and told her that she should have notified the judge right away of the doctor's opinion so she wouldn't be at risk of arrest.
He released her from the Orient Road Jail in Tampa on Saturday afternoon on her own recognizance.
Larsen broke down in tears explaining the challenge she faces caring for her son as a single mother. "And it's really difficult, but I love him more than anything in the world. I wouldn't trade him. Autism is especially hard to deal with."
Larsen believes the stress may have caused her to suffer a stroke recently that left her in the hospital for a month.
Julian is doing better in school, she says, due to medication. She says he's smart and earns good grades, but she needs the flexibility to keep him out of school when his behavior becomes a problem. She adds about her arrest, "I know this is necessary, but this is a special circumstance."
Larsen says Hammond Elementary School has teachers who specialize in teaching autistic children.
She says she left Julian in the care of his grandmother and his older siblings while she was in jail. Larsen also has two adult children and a 17-year-old.