I had planned to write a post about the school’s holiday program which we went to yesterday, but when checking my email I came upon this news story.
The bottom line is that an autistic 13 year old boy hanged himself in the school’s “time-out room,” which was essentially an empty room used for solitary confinement. As the article itself says, it questions and criticizes the practice of putting special needs kids in a room by themself to help them calm down during aggressive episodes.
I know a lot of people are outraged at the thought of their kids being given that kind of time-out. As a result, my thoughts on this are not popular with a lot of special needs parents. I have a severely challenged son. At 11 he is mostly non-verbal. He’s only been potty-trained for 3 years. My son can be sweet, but there are times he can be downright scary. My son has gotten out of control before. He’s destroyed furniture, attacked his siblings, and tried to strike me. I know firsthand what it’s like when you have a child, who is nearly as big as you, and stronger than you, freak out and get physical. Thankfully it’s hasn’t happened too often, but when it does it’s terrifying. I love my son, but when I think of a situation like that at his school (and there have been some too), my first thought is for the OTHER kids. Granted, I do expect the school to worry about my son’s safety, and I expect them to treat him with dignity. However, if Raif is going to hurt someone and can’t be controlled, then I understand that the other children and staff need to be considered..and protected. I mean, on the flip side I would expect that the school would be concerned with Raif’s welfare if one of the other kids in his class wanted to harm him.
Is locking a child in solitary the only way? I honestly don’t know. However I do know there have been times at home when I have had no other choice but clear the room and sit alone with my son until an episode has passed. Granted, there is a far cry from allowing a child to have a “time-out” in their bedroom rather than a secluded room. But knowing how bad these things can get and what little resources schools have, I am not sure if a padded, quiet room is inappropriate. As awful as it may sound on the outside, in many instances this is what the child *needs*–not simply a punishment tool. Particularly in cases when they can hurt (and possible kill) someone, I don’t think we can just arbitrarily abolish this means of containing a violent child.
As with all things like this, there is the potential for abuse. I do think there needs to be oversight and guidelines that should be strictly adhered to. The case in question had a few issues that were red flags. The room was actually more of a “cell”–stark and the only window was covered. Apparently the child was not being directly monitored. And the child had something with him that he could use to hurt himself. Those are the areas where the school went wrong. Even when a child is being confined, their health and care should be highly regarded. Raif has a behavioral management plan and part of it includes a detail of what steps the school will take in order to keep everyone safe, including Raif. There is focus on assuring Raif doesn’t hurt others, but also that he doesn’t hurt himself. That’s what is at issue here. Did the school take all the steps to assure the child who was being secluded was kept safe, not necessarily the fact that he was put in a room in the first place.
As I mentioned, I really wanted to post something happy today, but this article struck me. Granted, my heart goes out to those parents who lost their son. It truly is a tragedy and I can only imagine their sorrow–particularly since I could easily be in their shoes. What put me off, though, was the judgmental attitude of the article. Working with these kids can be very hard. It’s easy for the outside media to point fingers and make judgments when they are not there, don’t know the situation, and in most instances have never spent any time with kids like this. It’s a whole different world with them, and in the middle of a bad episode it can be a very scary world too.
If nothing else, these instances do bring attention to the abuses in the system and the flaws. However, I do hope it’s an opportunity to fix it and make it better/safer rather than to make a decision that is rash and not well thought-out, and have it lead to a whole different set of problems.