Parents of autistic children have enormous amounts of stress to deal with. Dealing with school systems often adds to it. The news has focused on an autistic boy confined to a duffel bag. Tucson schools do not use such a “therapy’ model for behavior control. The episode has inspired the creation of a website, change.org and highlights the need for well trained special ed teachers and counselors.
In Harrodsburg, Ky, a mother was called to school to pick up her 9 year old, autistic son because he was misbehaving in class. She found him confined in a duffel bag in the hallway with a teacher’s aide standing by. The boy, Chris Baker, is enrolled in a program for students with special needs. Tucson special needs classes also have ADHD, ADD, Learning Disabled and Mentally Retarded. Arizona requires all teachers assigned to special needs classrooms to take extra courses in classroom management. In addition, Tucson schools often offer all teachers classes during the year to introduce new methods in teaching or classroom management, or to strengthen skills. Certainly no two children respond to the same therapy, teaching, or behavior management methods. Most children with special needs spend at least part of their time in a regular classroom, so behavior management and alternative teaching is necessary for regular teachers as well. At times, a special education teacher will be a co-op teacher in the regular classroom.
Mrs. Baker said the bag was described as a “therapy bag” by school district officials. Since she was called for a behavior problem, it is presumed that it was a form of calming him down. Tucson schools do not confine students in dark, isolated places. They do supply different methods of “Time Out.” Some have a corner separated from the mainstream, and often it contains a bean bag chair or pillows and carpet rather than hard chairs. Books are available to read or look at. At times, a few minutes out of class with a teacher’s aide is an alternative method to calm the child while removing the distraction from the other students.
In the past, methods of physically restraining students, temporarily, have been taught to Special Ed teachers at TUSD. Hopefully, the funding is still available. Any method of restraining a child that could cause asphyxiation is not allowed. It should be noted, however, that physical restraint of a child can be extremely difficult, since they seem to get superhuman strength. In one TUSD school, when a 9 year old had lost control, it took 2 policemen and a counselor to restrain him. Training for Special Ed teachers usually includes a class in ways to distract students before they reach this stage of loss of control.
Lydia Brown, a university student who has autism, started a petition on a website, change.org. She, and others, believe such confinement would be wrong for any student, not just an autistic student. Since she is autistic and a university student, it shows that “Autistic” is not a near-death sentence. There are all levels of autism, and getting your child tested gives him/her a better chance for the proper help in schools. A good on-line parent site is “My Autism Team. All children deserve respect and the best learning enviroment possible.