Abuse, Restraint, and the Uphill Battle

Many in the autism community have already heard of the horrifying story of the young autistic boy being confined in a bag (the mother calls it a gym bag in this video). Lydia Brown, of Autistic Hoya, immediately acted, setting up a petition on Change.org that has nearly 150,000 signatures, a facebook page, and speaking to the media about this case. We send our children to school in the hopes that they will be well-cared for, respected, and not abused, but too many of our children are abused, are bullied, are mistreated.

And  yet, in covering previous restraint issues like a Florida school using a full-body restraint system on children, what's amazing are the people, including parents, who support the use of such things. You would think outrage over this would be universal (at the very least from the parental perspective), but the reality is that such abuse occurs because there are parents and professionals (and people in general) who wholeheartedly approve the use of restraints. The Judge Rotenberg Center continues to exist because parents went to bat before the state legislature praising the use of shocks on their children. Parents even use the shock systems when they take their children home for visits.

How could anyone do this? Part of it is the dehumanization of individuals with disabilities--the tendency to place anyone different in our outgroup. It is the removal of empathy. No one feeling empathy towards an individual could place a nine-year-old boy in a bag and tie it up and sit calmly by the bag. No one feeling empathy could place a child in a full-body restraint face-down and think that act is acceptable. Yet, it happens all too often.

Restraints, chemical and otherwise, are unlikely to go away any time soon. They are prevalent in institutions and prisons and are (supposed to be) used against individuals who are violent and out of control (when no other method will work). Regulations and oversight exist to try to avoid abuse of restraints, but that oversight is inadequate, and the people who are employed to care for these populations are often poorly trained, poorly paid, overworked and understaffed. The environments are ripe for abuse to occur. Add in dehumanization, lack of empathy, and the frustrations that come from being poorly trained, paid, and overworked, and it's inevitable.

The use of restraints are easier and faster than teaching an individual an appropriate way to respond to a person who is behaving disruptively or dangerously. In a culture in which spanking and smacking kids is still seen as an appropriate response, why is anyone surprised that restraint and abuse occur? After all, when nearly 1800 children in 2009 are believed to have been killed due to maltreatment and neglect in the US, and CPS reports in 2009 show nearly 700,000 unique children with substantiated abuse or neglect, why are we surprised when a teacher or a caregiver engages in abusive behavior? What should be really scary is that this is the tip of the iceberg--think how many cases of abuse and neglect are never reported.

In order to eliminate the abuse and mistreatment of our most vulnerable populations, we as a society must first change how we view violence in general and the use of physical force as a disciplinary tool. It is an uphill battle, especially given how the internet has allowed us to be anonymous and spew hatred without consequence. However, we are not without hope. Nearly 150,000 people cared enough to sign the petition at Change.org. Now, we need to act. As Lydia points out, ordinary people can make a difference. Stand up and speak out. Contact your legislatures and demand that legislation be passed calling for the equal rights of the disabled and disadvantaged to a safe environment where physical restraints are not allowed and that educators or caregivers who abuse and detain or restrain individuals are legally liable for their actions. If the act would be considered assault against a non-disabled individual, then it is for a disabled, as well, and all the more heinous an act because of the vulnerability of the individual.

It may be an uphill battle, but it is not a losing battle.


farmwifetwo said...

Restraints aren't allowed in the school system here. I know they are not allowed in our CL either (can't vouch for the rest of them). In our CL caregivers are trained to deal with all situations. I've asked my FSW.

The biggest problem here is the new Safe School's legislation that just went in. Again, like it's predecessor, there is no help for those with mental health issues. As far as Ont school system is concerned... they don't exist. They toss them into behavioural and autism classrooms without adequate teaching and supports (heard more than one "direct from the EA" horror story) and simply suspend them constantly. The new legislation allows them to expell them. Yes, I know Ont PPM 140 (ABA - social, communication, behaviour teaching) exists but unless you nag and push, it's not automatic into the IEP - it's in my eldest's and it works. BUT, you have to have an ASD dx... it should be available for all who need the help.

This is also going into that report I mentioned before... we discussed it already and he asked me to write it down.

Truth is... nobody cares. I am horrified that parents with severely autistic children believe they are ID when they are non-verbal. I'm more horrified that they aren't taught to communicate unless you do it yourself and that parents aren't pushing that #1 skill.

There are many, many basic decency things out there that aren't being done.... things really haven't changed over the years and parents have little in the way of supports and appropriate services. Some snap entirely, some believe various therapies, professionals are allowed limits that on "normal" people wouldn't be allowed and these are taught to parents who feel they have no other place to turn....

I have no idea how you're going to stop it b/c I'm not convinced "the gov't" truly cares.

melbo said...

I saw that story - I just have no words for how much this horrifies me. And yet it shouldn't.

When there are stories in the paper about smacking, it is truly amazing the number of people who come out of the woodwork, advocating giving kids a good whack to correct their behaviour. I once left a page on Facebook when a discussion about autistic children in normal classrooms went awry. One woman said "They are not normal and why should my normal child have to suffer being in the same classroom as a child who can't control himself and hasn't been taught any discipline?" It is then you realise the extent of the ignorance in the community and I think it's that ignorance that allows this mentality to continue.

farmwifetwo said...

Actually Melbo that's why restraints are used. Parent's think discipline, behaviour teaching, and communication skills building of their severely autistic children aren't necessary or they are not able to be taught. That others... like teachers... should have to deal with it.

If PARENTS would decide that it could be done instead of writing posts on how it's "OK" that their teenager trashes their house regularly b/c they cannot communicate... people would realize that it could be taught. If you can teach a 2 yr old you can teach anyone. You just have to decide to do it... day after day after day... restraints wouldn't be required

But, the system doesn't have the resources. Parents want a quick fix. Parents forget to parent the moment they get a diagnosis. Which leaves the system in a disaray and a feeling of "why bother".

Instead parents should be working on teaching their children and they should demand the system work with them to teach survival skills to these kids in every situation.

I have a 12yr old that to this day am shocked never landed in a behavioural class. BUT, at the end of Gr 2 PPM 140 came in. School of course ignored it and Gr 3 - 3 days from the end of the school year - I discovered things hadn't been all that rosy. I made a few calls and yanno... I got a call the week before Gr 4 that it was going in and so was an aide... which we hadn't had since JrK.

Now I have a child in Gr 7 that is having few to no troubles. Teachers are watching to prevent issues before they start. Social skills have been taught and he "passes for normal" academically and socially.

I have a severely autistic child in a low behavioural LD classroom.

It can be done.. but everyone has to be onside.

I truly believe the problem starts at home. Until home decides that the 'status quo' isn't appropriate, until they demand proper speech/language/OT/supports/social skills teaching restraints and expulsions will remain. The system doesn't know what to do otherwise and the gov't will back it b/c they see it as protecting all the parties.... general public, disabled and their caregivers.

melbo said...

The quick fix is the nub of the problem. I've often said to people that the focus of discipline has changed - the motivation to behave in a socially acceptable way is more effective if it comes from within and of course we have to model good behaviour ourselves. Not always easy and it is definitely long term.

People see that as no discipline but it is in fact harder than just clipping someone over the ear or yelling from the next room. The latter two get immediate results (maybe) but all the kid learns is that when you're mad, you can hit someone or scream at them.

There's a big difference between not disciplining and taking the slower long term approach to teaching kids to manage their own behaviour. I fail myself at this many days when I'm tired or on my last nerve but I've had to do a lot of learning too.

I feel for teachers who are faced with parents who expect them to do all the work. I agree with you that education starts in the home.