Manassas day-care operator convicted of abusing 2 children with disabilities

A woman who ran a day care in Manassas was convicted Friday of abusing two children who have special needs.

During a trial in Prince William County juvenile court, witnesses said that Arousha Shahin tied a 5-year-old girl to a chair and dragged a 6-year-old boy by his hair and angrily pushed his head to the ground when he did not identify a letter in an alphabet game.

But Shahin and her attorney insisted that her treatment of the children was part of a therapy system she devised to help them handle their disabilities, and several parents of children who enrolled in Shahin’s programs said her unusual methods were almost miraculous, not criminal.

“The very last thing you do to one of these children is you lose your cool and you grab them,” Judge H. Jan Roltsch-Anoll said to Shahin. “I don’t find, necessarily, that the defendant is a bad person. I find that she reached her point and she didn’t walk away.”

In the non-jury trial, Roltsch-Anoll found Shahin guilty of two counts of assault and battery on the boy and of contributing to the abuse and neglect of both children. The judge ordered Shahin to complete an anger management class and imposed a suspended 60-day jail term.

A former assistant in Shahin’s S.M.I.L.E. day-care program — which has been closed since her March arrest — and an aide who worked with the autistic girl testified that they saw Shahin mistreat the children on several occasions.

Shahin testified that each instance was part of her therapy. Tying the girl to her chair with a rope and a weight was meant to help the child develop certain motor skills, she said.

She said that pulling the children’s hair was a technique she derived from the Masgutova Method, which calls for a therapist to stimulate certain points on a patient’s body, including tugging on hair. She acknowledged the technique is meant to be carried out gently on a massage table, and she developed the idea of using it on a child in motion.

Witnesses said the boy sobbed and screamed “ow” as he was dragged by his hair in an incident that Shahin herself characterized as “aggressive.”

The mother of the boy, who is mostly nonverbal, testified about her distress after hearing about the incident from the girl’s mother. “My main concern was that if he was hurt and couldn’t tell me, and couldn’t tell anyone, and was crying for 10 minutes afterward, how that would impact him and people that he trusted moving forward,” she said.

Other parents said they trusted Shahin and credited her with improvements in their children that no other specialist had achieved.

One mother, who was among about a half-dozen who came to support Shahin, said that her daughter stopped banging her head under Shahin’s tutelage.

“I am sad that other children will not get the same benefit,” she said.

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Julie Zauzmer is a local news reporter.
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