Children with disabilities are being secluded from classmates and restrained against their will to control their behavior, a new investigative report finds — interventions that have led to harm and, in rare cases, deaths.This is a terrifying report, and, from what I have heard and read from families, the types of abuse reported are by no means limited to schools coping with poverty, crime, or other issues. In fact, seclusion rooms (often called "quiet rooms"), restraints and similar approaches to discipline are everywhere. And in many cases, kids with disabilities are the ONLY children who are subject to such draconian discipline. Typical kids may act out similarly, and receive the equivalent of a slap on the wrist.
In many cases, the restraints happen even when students aren't physically aggressive or dangerous, says a report from the Government Accountability Office being released Tuesday.
What makes the situation especially difficult is the reality that some kids with autism and similar disorders who are placed in typical classrooms do consistently disrupt the class. General education teachers may or may not have specific training in behavior management. What's more, she may or may not have access to an aide, a 1:1 shadow, or a "drop in" special education teacher to support her as she attempts to manage a class of 23 kids, several children with special needs, and expectations of high performance on standardized tests. This means that teachers and parents of typically developing students may be quite right in saying that the child with special needs is truly disrupting the educational process.
Of course, in an ideal world, every autistic child would be appropriately included with full support - for the child, his peers, his teachers and his parents. My strong guess, though, is that lack of support - and flat ignorance of behavior management strategies and the law - are the source of so much abuse.
I don't have the answer to this puzzle (which is part of the reason why my son with autism is presently homeschooled). Certainly, funding for and requirement of appropriate behavior management supports is critical. But what if the supports don't work? What if the teacher isn't particularly talented - or is anxious around kids with special needs? What if there's a really negative relationship among the child with special needs and his peers?
I'd be interested to hear from readers how you would resolve some of the problems inherent in including autistic children in typical classrooms. Would you push for more specialized classrooms? Provide more teachers per class? Have full time behavior specialists in every school? And - given the cost of these and similar "fixes" - who should be asked to foot the bill?