No Excuses for Abusive Restraining of Autistic Children in Schools

Louisville, Kentucky Christopher Baker, a 9-year-old autistic boy who misbehaved at school was stuffed into a duffel bag and the drawstring pulled tight in a Mercer County Public School in Louisville, Kentucky. There are no laws in Kentucky on using restraint or seclusion in public schools. The state also investigated two informal complaints this year. “A student (was) nearly asphyxiated while being restrained,” and in the other, a student vomited from panic attacks after spending most of an academic year “confined to a closet, with no ventilation or outside source of light.”

Albuquerque, New Mexico In November, 2011, a 7-year-old autistic boy was handcuffed by a school police officer at Mary Ann Binford Elementary School in Albuquerque, New Mexico when his acting up in class escalated to running around the school and hitting social workers who were trying to restrain him. The Albuquerque Public Schools’ policies emphasize prevention, and both state and district policies say restraint should be used as a last resort – when students are in danger of hurting themselves or others. Yet de-escalation guidelines were not implemented in this situation.

Leila Pochop, a special education teacher, said she believes violent outbursts from students have increased in frequency and intensity. The poor economy, she suggests, may be putting strains on families that students with special needs carry with them to school. Shrinking public education budgets have led to smaller staffs and larger classrooms, which can trigger outbursts or make them harder to control.

Special Needs of Autistic Children Liz Thomson, past president of the New Mexico Autism Society whose son has autism, said parents would like to see training for school personnel that is specific to autism. While students with autism are not the only ones who act out, she said they have particular needs that can be counterintuitive. “What might be comforting to a neurotypical child might be painful to a child with autism.”

Real Solutions “More and more, teachers are reaching out for professional development on behavior techniques, classroom management, how do you prevent inappropriate behavior, how do you enhance positive behavior . . . this is what we need to help support our students,” Leila Pochop said. Yet school districts have reduced training and professional development budgets. Clearly, the education and respectful treatment of all children and their needs, particularly children with special needs, should be a top priority for our communities and our nation.

 

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