Lock up the Autistic Kid!

I started my (so far) 15 year career working with disabled and Autistic people in Wellington, New Zealand. It’s also where I started to become an adult, so the city means a lot to me, but I have issues (another story, but read my previous piece to shed some light https://everydaybehaviour.wordpress.com/2016/01/24/an-open-letter-to-wellington-new-zealand/)

My first job in this field was in a children’s respite service, here is where it all began and I learned a great deal, it got me started. It was a very complex group of young people with a huge variety of needs, it was a trial by fire in the sense of learning about communication, Autism, behaviour and health needs. I dealt with aggression and many seizures, and every bodily fluid you can think of. Many of the young people in that service attended a local school Miramar Central, and I just read this article about a very recent scandal there http://thespinoff.co.nz/politics/14-10-2016/the-miramar-central-scandal-lays-bare-a-cavalier-culture-at-the-ministry-of-education/

I’ll let you read that yourself, but the short version is this: the school used a room/cupboard to lock away children in their special needs class who were presenting complex behaviours. I don’t need to tell you that locking up disabled people (or anyone) is a deprivation of liberty, and is frankly horrific.

If indeed the school was struggling to manage the behaviours of one or more students they could’ve asked for psychology, speech therapy or behavioural support instead. Maybe they did and didn’t get it, it’s been a long time since I worked in Wellington, maybe these services are scarce, regardless of that someone who is an educator should know this is not a solution to managing behaviours, and is more likely causing trauma which will probably result in more challenging behaviours.

There will be some people with Autism who would find being in a confined darkened space quite comforting, you can block out the negative sensory stimulus, but this is not everyone and regardless of that it should never be used to manage behaviour, it is a punishment plain and simple.

Time and again it has been proven that punishing people for behaviour has little positive effect. Aversive approaches have been almost universally disapproved for years. Child is bad, take away child’s toys doesn’t necessarily teach them to stop their behaviour or why it is bad, it teaches them to make sure they don’t get caught next time. That’s over simplified but you get the idea.

In my experience aversive approaches such as restraint, deprivation or denial of a reward usually result in the person finding a much more complex behaviour to display in an attempt to communicate what they were originally trying to say, that’s the key.

My purpose in writing this wasn’t to discuss behavioural management, but to point out that these practices are in common use still, imprisoning children in their school is barbaric, it hit a nerve with me because I worked with children who went to that school, how many of those kids endured this? Its 2016, time to modernise education and social care.


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