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.

 

School Bullying and a new Occupy Movement

I think the issue of bullying is much larger than we think. Children imitate what they see. That’s one of the most important ways they learn, particularly in the case of social behavior. Bullying cannot exist on its own in children. They learn it by imitating the adults around them who coerce them in many, many ways – at home with parental abuse, in schools with abuse by teachers, administration, and counselors (I witnessed this firsthand in the 70s and wrote an expose on it), being forced to take drugs that make them feel sick and have horrible adverse effects, and so on. Please note that I’m not objecting to setting healthy disciplinarian guidelines. I’m talking about abuse. Bullying is abuse being passed on by children who themselves have been abused in many ways and are being told that abuse is “for their own good”.

Add to this picture a world where Big Agra, Big Pharma, Big Banks, Big Oil, and Govt control so much of our lives and get away with horrible abuses. Small farms being destroyed, the right to fresh water being taken over by corporations, cars and industries that pollute the environment and cause multiple diseases, investment bank CEOs causing large scale financial destruction without being prosecuted. No wonder the Occupy Movement is growing. We want a voice. And children’s voices are the most stifled of all. No wonder children lash out at other children. They’re angry. They have a right to be. Maybe children should start an Occupy Movement in schools and demand the right to speak freely and openly, the right to be treated respectfully and with kindness, the right to the best education, and the right to be who they are and mature at their own pace without being drugged or coerced.