In Idaho, some attention is being given to the fact that an eight year old girl was recently arrested due to a behavioral incident at her school. Evelyn Towry's parents are...now suing the school district and the sheriff's department for violating the Americans With Disabilities Act. (Blog Article)
The girl is reported to have Asperger's, a high functioning form of autism. What is not reported is if she attends school under an Individual Education Plan (IEP), usually utilized for students in need of more comprehensive assistance. If she was attending school under IEP, was there a Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP) in place for her, in order to have readiness in case she presented with challenging behaviors?
A recent article out of Akron addresses the subject of an autistic teen being dragged by his ankles down a hallway at school. That person's mothered demanded better training. Incidents like these seem to be happening with more frequency.
My own daughter was carried out of the classroom during her 4th grade year. More recently, a friend's middle school aged son was dragged across a classroom, and the police were called. In both of these cases the behaviors exibited were out of the scope of how either child usually presented. The teachers had little reason to expect it, and had no plan available to them with regard to how to react.
Many times when nobody knows what to do because of the intensity of the outburst, the police are called.
It might be important to provide training to teacher's under the preparedness scenario. We have fire drills, we have tornado drills...maybe teachers will need to engage in behavior drills.
Some specialty schools have guidelines in place with regard to how to handle the more behaviorally and physically challenging scenarios where autism acts out in its worst form; a preparedness mindset since most of the children that they service have the more challenging issues.
With regard to restraint, seclusion or any other methods utilized for those within the autism spectrum, there are times when it is necessary. The question really becomes, how must it be applied and how must the child's understanding about the process be facilitated in order to keep everyone safe.
Restraint in its best form is really just about figuring out how to keep everyone from getting hurt. Does the public school have a plan in place that provides safe exit for teachers and classmates from a dangerous situation? Is it as easy as just having those who can, clear out of the classroom. This type of scenario has been used in our school district. Holds are sometimes necessary if the child who is experiencing the episode is going to hurt themselves. Protective pads seem to come in pretty handy for such situations.
Seclusion is really just about finding a suitable environment for a current challenging situation. Does the public school have a way to provide a type of healthy and useful seclusion? It doesn't have to be the padded room, just an alternate activity or less stimulating area within the school. Environment is as important as staffing.
What about physical force and its involvement with regard to restraint and seclusion. Physical prompting is sometimes required when communication of a want or need has not been complied with, and safety is threatened. Once an episode starts, any person who intervenes in a physical way with the one experiencing the episode might be somehow assaulted - can the public schools help the student to learn to move themselves to an area exclusive to their need to de escalate?
Even during a worsening psychosis, my daughter learned the seclusion room was a place to deescalate and she would take herself there when she felt her episodes coming on. At school, during some problem times, she was able to learn to move herself to an area provided for deescalation. At home, she was the one who wanted to empty her room of the clutter, of all the old things that triggered associations to her worsening, so that her mind would rest. Her room became a positive place of seclusion and rest.
School district planning offices need to alert those in their special education departments about the goals they have in place for servicing the autism spectrum population. Many in the field of special education have already had their ah ha moments as they rise to the challenge after their initial question of, "You mean, we have to service these really challenging students too?" After that realization has been accepted, servicing only becomes doable if an appropriate type of environment can be fashioned in order to provide the types of space - for creative and acceptable types of seclusion and restraint, that are significantly less harmful for growing numbers of those dealing with a sometimes more then occasional worsening side of autism.