4/14/2011

Absolutely No Justification: The Use Of Restraints In A Florida School

Written with Kathleen Leopold and originally posted at Autism Blogs Directory (and edited for a wider audience)


Kim: There is a video   (embed is not working) that everyone needs to see, especially those involved in disability rights and the needs of autistic and disabled students. If we in the autism community want a place for consensus, a place where we can agree action needs to happen (although you would have thought a sustained cacophony or chorus, your pick, would have occurred over the Judge Rotenberg Center), then this has to be one of those areas. There is absolutely no justification for this. This will not let 'the child practice his relaxation techniques' as this assistant principal so blandly presents.





Kathleen Leopold: I was horrified watching this. Firstly, the language used to describe using this device- "The child is escorted over by two people and gently lowered on the mat."  Gently?  I don't know about anyone else's experience here; I can only speak from my own.  There was a time when one of my sons was prone to rather large "outbursts" -- screaming, kicking, throwing things.  I can speak from experience in saying that there is absolutely no way that he would have accepted being "escorted" by two people-let alone be "gently lowered" anywhere. In other words, he would have fought tooth and nail against anyone trying to touch him. Furthermore, asking him to practice his "relaxation technique" in a situation where all control was taken away from him is absurd. It is more than likely he would have quieted down from sheer exhaustion-from fighting the restraints.  After which of course he would be returned to his seat. I can not imagine what the atmosphere must be like in that classroom. The constant fear-the reminder...step out of line and you will lose your freedom, your dignity and your humanity.


   The justification given for using this device is to "protect against human error."  What does that mean?  Which humans are they talking about?  Certainly not the students.  Now, I understand not wanting a student to hurt themselves, or others. I understand not wanting to physically hurt a student.  All of these things make sense. Restraining someone in order to prevent these things does not.  Nor does trying to sell the idea that it somehow this helps the student practice their "relaxation process."  I find the idea repugnant.  There are many other techniques and strategies that can be used.  They do however require skills and training. It would appear that the promoting of the use of restraint is an easy fix-and definitely less costly. My question is-what does it do?  When does it end?  One only needs to look at the "Judge Rotenberg Center" and the testimony of parents who support the use of restraints and electro-shock aversion "therapy, to see that it doesn't end.


There are people there who have spent DECADES hooked up to electro shock back packs. Decades being treated less than animals. Decades-because it keeps them "safe."  Unfortunately not safe from human error.



Kim: 


I have emails out to interested parties and am awaiting their responses, but while we wait, I wanted to share some information.

In addition to the video, there is this story on Magnolia School. They have engaged in 448 incidents of restraint in the first two and a half months of the year. A comparable school has engaged in 11 during the same time period. There is also this story which reveals the school district has around 25 percent of all the restraints for the state for the school year. There's something very wrong with this picture.

The restraint shown in the video appears to be this restraint: Ultimate Restraint System. 




Go back to the video. The restraint is demonstrated incorrectly. The person should go face up. Note that the grown woman is too small for the restraint. Note the potential for suffocation. However, the school is putting them in FACE DOWN; the first news story notes that: "These are padded mats with a stiff board inside. Students are immobilized while standing up, then laid facedown on the device. Thick flaps are placed over their shoulders, midsection and legs to hold them in place."

Now, back to the story:

 "Several times this year, students at Magnolia were held in these devices more than two hours.
Magnolia staff said they follow a strict protocol, bringing in a nurse after 15 minutes to watch the student's breathing and focusing a fan on the child's upper body. If the child is restrained for more than an hour, an administrator must sign off on it."

Again, there's no justification for this. And the fact that they are using the device wrong, may be using it on children too small for it, and are using it for hours ought to give reasonable people pause. Especially given that a similar school in the district somehow manages to deal with the issues in a different way that does not involve restraint.



Parents whose children are restrained will weigh in on this, and there will be some who are so convinced of its utility that as horrified as Kathleen and I are of its use, they are horrified we would argue for its removal. Does restraint work in the short term? Perhaps, but much like spanking's failure to work long term and generalized, so to is restraint destined for long time failure. There will be no fading out and removal. Remove the restraints and you remove the fear and the compliance. There are other, more effective ways to teach appropriate behaviors for the vast majority of those with behavioral issues.  According to LaBel et al. (2010), regarding restraints: "These practices are traumatizing and dangerous to both children and staff; costly to agencies in terms of program operations, staff morale, and client outcomes; and inconsistent with researched best practices."

Yes, it is true that sometimes restraint (be it seclusion, physical restraint, mechanical restraint, or chemical) will be necessary. But it doesn't belong in the public school system being done by school teachers. And when it is done, mechanical and physical restraint should always be the last choice.


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