I was interviewed on camera at work today to comment on a local news story about an 8 year old boy with autism who was restrained in a chair with a belt, double-knotted, in the corner of a classroom. This child had just moved into this school and mom came to the school for his move-in conference. She stopped by to see him, and that was what she found. Her non-verbal son, who would not be able to tell her about what happened at school that day, was tied to a chair and left. Three adults were in the classroom: a teacher and two aides.
This is legal in Indiana.
When we got word at work that an investigative reporter wanted to interview someone from our office to answer the questions of 1) how can this happen? And 2) how could this have been handled better?, the brainpower in that room was electric. Should we take the interview? Shouldn't she be talking to the Department of Education? Do we need a lawyer? What was the situation that led to this? Was he hurting himself or others? Was this a stupid decision by untrained staff? Does he have a Behavior Intervention Plan, and was the new school aware of it?
Thing is, Indiana law allows this. Honestly, as despicable as the thought is of a beloved non-verbal child being restrained, the teachers are put in a no-win situation at times. We don't know the full situation here, but looking at the larger situation, there are children who are flight risks/wanderers, as well as children with extremely challenging behaviors (throwing desks & chairs, destructing property in the classroom). The teacher can't deadbolt a classroom door or put up a baby gate or some other safety barrier because it would break fire codes. Upcoming budget cuts promise – it's been announced – that instructional aides in elementary schools will be cut. Okay, so we can't lock a door or keep a child from bolting out the door, we reduce staff, and there are students that are escape artists or have "behavior issues". Is strapping them to a chair acceptable to keep them from escaping or from injuring another child or staff member? It's legal and it's sickening and it's heartbreaking. The subject of the story hit too close to home: and 8 year old boy, non-verbal, with autism. My son would not be able to tell me if this happened to him. And yet, what are teachers to do without the training and support that is needed? Good luck getting 1:1 aides for your child with these challenges – they are tough to get and again, with budget cuts, schools do not want to commit dollars there.
It's a mess, and my heart breaks.
Turning this to me for a moment, I was SO filled with angst before this interview. I did not feel that I had enough knowledge about Seclusion & Restraint to talk about it in any coherent way. I also feel that I am not good thinking clearly in high pressure situations – I need time to process, to research – and I did not feel at first that I was the right person for this interview. However, as the brainpower session continued, I offered to do it (even though I had initially said I wouldn't.) Despite the terrible subject we were discussing, as I was deciding whether to do this or not, I received the nicest, most genuine compliments from my colleagues. They all thought I was the right person to do this. Nothing disingenuous at all. I began believe them, to think that I really was the right person to do this interview, so I did it. I still was desperate not to say anything that would make our organization look bad, or be an inappropriate statement coming from our organization. Our marketing director sat down with me and was so terrifically helpful – listened to what I would say if that parent had called in, and helped me identify my own talking points. And I did it. So I know that this day, this story was not at all about me. But the process turned out to be so affirming of my abilities and talents. I think I am good at this.
Now to hug T.