Thursday, December 14, 2006

Parents Criticize Use of Restraints In CT Public Schools

Yesterday there was a huge public hearing at the CT State House in Hartford, sponsored by the state Office of Protection and Advocacy for Persons with Disabilities. It was packed with about 100 Special Ed parents who were demanding changes to the use of restraints and seclusion on their children who attend public school. They were seeking changes in State Law because apparently there are no state or federal mandates or statutes that cover that area (as opposed to those that cover psychiatric hospitals or youth institutions). Additionally, parental consent for the use of various methods of behavioral control in school is severly lacking.
The CT Department of Children and Families spoke to the fact that they have no real authority over the schools, (that's a relief, eh?) but that they felt they (DCF), were doing a fabulous job of reducing the use of restraints in their own facilities, although they still have a ways to go. (oh my, what an understatement). The entire hearing was taped by CTN. It is certain that CT will see legislation come out this year on this issue. (HT: Noelle T. who attended).

Here is an excerpt of the Courant article:
When Jill Ely's autistic son tried to hit a high school aide one day last year, the aide pinned him to the floor, leaving him bruised and shaken, Ely said. Wilton High School later developed a behavior plan that included a "safe place" where her son, who also is mentally retarded, could calm down when he became upset, she said. "Never in my wildest dreams did I think that the safe place would be a room with a door that would be held shut until [he] was completely quiet."
Although state law imposes strict limits on the use of force or seclusion in programs operated by various state agencies, the law does not apply to public schools, said James D. McGaughey, executive director of the protection and advocacy office.
Children's advocates asked for a revision of the law and called for better training of educators and public school staff members who deal with students with behavioral problems.
In Connecticut, the settlement of a lawsuit five years ago required the state to monitor compliance with a federal law requiring schools to educate children with disabilities in regular classrooms whenever possible. But advocates say schools are unprepared to deal with the emotional and behavioral problems that some of those children bring with them.
"The result of the settlement ... is mixed," said Stacy Hultgren, co-director of the Connecticut Autism Spectrum Resource Center. "The settlement did not enforce training and supports to help kids succeed. Not all children with autism should be included in typical settings - the sensory overload of noise, movement, bombardment of language, complex social demands ... can make the classroom a hell on earth for some kids with autism."
Maryann Lombardi, also from Wilton, said her autistic son was routinely sent to what she described as "a padded cell called the timeout room." She said such rooms "are creating a culture within the public school system where employees believe that if you have a disability label, locking you up is OK."
Can someone please explain to me why these kids are in public school to begin with; I mean other than nonsensical federal mandates? This is so not what public education was designed to be. Teachers are not equipped to deal with these severe handicaps. Children who are not special ed, should not have to be exposed to the outbursts and extreme behaviors of some autistic students. It is frightening and upsetting to them as well, and it interrupts their own instruction. Some autistic children clearly cannot handle the situation well either. It really isn't fair to everyone all around.
I really don't mean to be prejudicial, but I really believe that since the idea of "mainstreaming" has been incorporated, our school system has served the general mission of educating kids less and less, as instructor time and resources are gobbled up by "emotionally high maintenance" children.
Autism is tragic and we really need to give better support to children and families who deal with it. It seems to me that the kids would really be much better served in schools designed with their specific needs in mind, and with educators who are specifically equipped and trained to handle their needs. Then we certainly would not have a need for restraints, or padded rooms in schools, to hold any child.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

The article referenced does not specify that the children were not in a specially designed program. There is no mention of this being a mainstreaming issue.

My eldest son, who is profoundly autistic, attends public school.
He is not disrupting regular education, though. He is in a self-included autistic unit. I would not want him in a mainstream enviornment where he could disrupt other's learning as well as open himself up to the ridicule of others.

In the schools I have seen, time out rooms are only used in ESE classes, not regular classes. I have, in fact, never hear of restraints or time out rooms used in a regular ed enviornment.

jodi_mother_of_child_with_autism said...

You said: It seems to me that the kids would really be much better served in schools designed with their specific needs in mind, and with educators who are specifically equipped and trained to handle their needs.
* * * *

My comment: This is a catch-22 in many cases. On the one hand, by isolating children with autism from "normal" kids you prevent problems that arise, i.e. disruption of the classroom.

But, I see more problems then positives with that solution.

(1) Autistic children often have problems with generalization. This means that while they may learn a skill in one atmosphere, they cannot always use that skill in another atmosphere (i.e. a child who is fully potty trained at home may still need diapers at grandma's house). When those kids are put into a class with special training for autism, if these kids ever have a chance of learning to function OUTSIDE of an "autism class", they will have to be given the opportunity to be around NT peers and people.

(2) Children with autism need to learn how to imitate. If you work on imitation with an autistic child, but leave them in a room with autistic children, they simply imitate autistic behaviors. It's difficult to teach imitation to a child with autism if the only opportunity they have to work on this skill involves imitation of other delays...(i.e. a child may learn how to imitate well in a special classroom, but leaving them there may result in the child imitating headbanging).

If autism was a disorder without any hope for improvement, I would agree that things like the sensory overload of a regular classroom would be simply cruel. But the answer cannot be to isolate these kids from society so they aren't disruptive. Anyone who is "specifically equipped and trained" to work with an autistic child is going to offer more then simply dealing with their needs in an isolated environment.

Autism is a difficult disorder to watch your child struggle through. Setting a broken bone is a painful necessity for the bone to heal. Autism is a social/sensory disorder and, as heartwrenching as it can be, if you want your child to develop those skills there come moments where you have gone as far as you can in the controlled environments and simply must take the kids into the real world so they can continue to develop to their fullest potential.

Judy Aron said...

I am not trying to be mean or anything, and I certainly understand your point of view and all. I can see the benefits, but I can also see the downsides. While I am not in your shoes at all and can't imagine what it is like to have a child with such an awful disability, I think that you too must understand the other side of the coin. Yes, it is difficult to see any child struggle and have difficulties. I am not suggesting that autistic children be in total isolation, but you also must realize that "Normal Children", as you say, also model behavior. They too can imitate and pick up autistic kids' behaviors (like head banging). Is that good for them? Is it good for them to be used for social therapy when they really ought to be spending time concentrating on what school was designed for, which was learning to read, write, and do arithmetic? Is it ok for the teachers' instruction time to be taken up by dealing with the problems an autistic child (or even kids with other disabilities) exhibits? I felt that with my child in a class with autistic kids (and they had kids with disabilites in their classes when they were in school) that so much time was spent catering to the special needs kids, that my own kids' needs were ignored, and they began to fall behind. As I said, I think that in some instances it is not fair all around and that inevitably someone loses out.
I don't have the answers, but clearly I think that we have developed real problems with certain aspects of mainstreaming, and all I am suggesting is that perhaps we re-examine how we've handled it and aproached it.

Dana said...

There is an interesting report out there somewhere (I should have bookmarked it) about how mainstreaming hurts most those who it is trying to help. In fact, I believe it was in New Zealand that they were taking a new look at it, given complaints that mainstreaming was actually detrimental to many of the students in the special education population.

I've worked with children who were in an environment they shouldn't have been in, and it doesn't hurt anyone. But I've also seen areas where mainstreaming has worked. In those cases, the students had personal assistants assigned to them who worked continually with th behavior issues, removing the child when necessary, but that was rarely needed with the one-on-one interaction.

I think that is the ideal, but obviously tres expensive.

jodi said...

>>> but you also must realize that "Normal Children", as you say, also model behavior. >>>

That is true, but developmentally there is a SIGNIFICANT difference. Many autistic children do NOT model behavior...they don't have the skills to do so, and have to be taught how to do it. Most kids begin modeling behavior VERY young (i.e. peek a boo) and by the time they reach school age, that skill is set. Developmentally, to compare apples to apples, you'd have to compare what behavior you wanted to reinforce in an 18 month old learning to imitate...not a typical 2nd grader, who will have certainly advanced beyond that level. By that age, imitation is more to "be cool"...not to develop the skill itself. I've never heard of an NT child developing a stim from having an autistic child mainstreamed.

>>> They too can imitate and pick up autistic kids' behaviors (like head banging). >>>

I've never heard of an NT chid developing a stim from having an autistic child in their class. Also, an NT child can be told "don't do that" where an autistic child is more unlikely to have that type of understanding. Autistic children imitating behavior has a different end result on their development then an NT child imitating behavior.

Plus, NT children aren't going to have the sensory issues...if an NT child bangs their head, they're going to stop when it hurts. Autistic children with sensory issues wouldn't. Not necessarily a problem in a classroom where someone can stop them, but a big problem if they headbang at night when everyone is sleeping.

>>> Is it good for them to be used for social therapy ...>>>

LOL, with all of society's insistance that homeschooling is concerning because "what about socialization"....hee hee

I don't think public school is good for socialization at all, regardless if a child is disabled or not. But, having a child with autism around NT kids isn't the same as using those kids for social therapy.

>>> when they really ought to be spending time concentrating on what school was designed for, which was learning to read, write, and do arithmetic? >>>

That's one of the problems with the PS system. The government has made mandatory education so mandatory, and parents have given up that responsibility to the government, that that is no longer the actual purpose of public schools. It's just one of many things the school "must" do to raise society's kids.

>> Is it ok for the teachers' instruction time to be taken up by dealing with the problems an autistic child (or even kids with other disabilities) exhibits? >>

Using that reasoning, we could say it's not okay for the teacher's instruction time to be taken up dealing with a child who may not understand a concept very well. Deciding things based on what's best for the majority always leaves someone behind. Before NCLB it was the disabled students. NCLB has leveled the playing field a bit, where slipping through the cracks and not getting the best education is an opportunity given to ALL public school students. (A good reason to homeschool *g*)

>>> I think that in some instances it is not fair all around and that inevitably someone loses out. >>>

I agree. It's just a matter of who. If your child is the NT child in the class with the autistic child, you'll want it to be the autistic child who adapts so your child doesn't fall through. If your child is the autistic one, you want the NT kids to adapt to your child doesn't fall through.

>> I don't have the answers, but clearly I think that we have developed real problems with certain aspects of mainstreaming, and all I am suggesting is that perhaps we re-examine how we've handled it and aproached it. >>>

*GBG* I think a good solution would be closing all the PS's and homeschooling everyone! Without all the costs related to day-to-day PS operations, and things like NCLB, certainly the government could afford to fund everyone's homeschool, (I've got no numbers on this, but after homeschooling three years it's cost me less then $1000 total for three kids, and I'm sure the government spends more then that on PS students!)

Judy Aron said...

Well - all good comments and observations. As I said, I don't know the answers.. but I still maintain that there are some kids that warrant so much special help that their teachers are not equipped to handle them adequately and that is the issue that should be addressed. Extra aides and so forth, are a good idea but quite expensive for the school system as Dana pointed out. Putting kids in seclusion (in closets) and so forth, certainly is not an optimal way of handling things, as the original article reported.
All I know from my own experience is that when my kids were in school with special needs kids, that their own needs were hampered because of the amount of attention given to the special needs kids, and the pace of instruction also suffered as a result.
As for homeschooling.. I think it's great of course, as it has worked for me and mine for the past 11 years, but I'm not sure that it's for everyone,(I.E. not everyone wants to do it) and perish the thought of the government funding it. As for NCLB leveling the playing field, I don't agree, and if it is level it is at a much lower standard not a higher one.