All is peaceful as the 2nd grade student works on his spelling words along with the class. In the blink of an eye, something agitates him. He gets frustrated over something that others can only guess at and instantly shreds his spelling paper. His aide and teacher move swiftly and the child finds himself with arms held down in place, restrained against his desk. No one will let go of him until the thrashing and struggle cease. Unfortunately, while restraint has its place, this is not a scenario that restraint was required in.
The proper use of restraint seems to have gotten lost over the years since introduced as a solution in public schools decades ago. It’s getting used for infractions of behavior more as a punishment than a safety protocol. The proper use of restraint is for a child who endangers himself or someone else beyond the scope of being redirected from behavior. Consider my scenario again and ask yourself; who was in danger? Who was being hurt? A piece of paper, that’s all. At this point, it is time to attempt redirection of the child’s behavior and attention. Should that fail, and the child turns destructive behavior to self harm or goes for another student, then restraint may be necessary.
Seclusion is the next issue that’s causing problems. Consider this, therapists tell us that time out should only be used for a period of about a minute per child’s age. They’ll even tell you that a child with shortened attention span will have to be adjusted in shorter increments of time. How is it then, that our schools are locking children in “seclusion rooms” for 30 minutes and more? Some for more than an hour! Just to get started, that’s about 3x the amount that we are taught, isn’t it? As if that weren’t bad enough, seclusion areas could be anything from a blank concrete room to a janitor’s closet! Another thing that “time out” is not supposed to be is intimidating or frightening. Think about it.
So why have our schools gone to such extreme measures? I think they simply don’t know what to do with these kids and what ever conditions they may be living under. That’s why they need additional education. Let’s face it, the number of children who have autism, ADHD, or any other condition, isn’t dropping. In fact, it’s increasing by leaps and bounds. It’s creating a shift in the kinds of students that teachers are doing to find in their classrooms. This calls for the system to adapt to the changing needs of the students.
When it comes to restraint, we need to set a guideline for it’s use and train our educational staff in proper application. When considering the child’s needs what do we know about them? What is their medical condition and how does it affect them? There’s no need to be perfectly knowledgeable, but knowing the basics certainly can’t hurt. Here’s an important consideration; can the child in question be redirected from behavior? If so, there should be no need for restraint. If the child has fits that cannot be consoled or redirected, and they become dangerous to themselves or others, then safe and appropriate restraint should be used. But what does restraint really do to a child? In my next posting, I’ll be addressing just that.