Flickr / smithereen11Has the mainstreaming of children with severe behaviour problems gone too far? In April, a nine-year-old Montreal boy with autism died of suffocation when a special education teacher wrapped him in a weighted blanket to calm him. Two Michigan public school students with autism have died while being held on the ground in prone restraint. Several states have either tightened regulations on the use of restraints and seclusion in schools, or plan to do so. “Behaviour problems in school are way up, and there’s good reason to believe that the use of these procedures is up too,” says professor of education Reece L Peterson.

For more than a decade, parents of children with developmental and psychiatric problems have pushed to gain more access to mainstream schools and classrooms for their sons and daughters, says the New York Times. Last year the public system served 600,000 more special education students than it did a decade ago, many at least part-time in regular classrooms. Federal law requires that schools develop a behavioural plan for every student with a disability. But many staff are not adequately trained to handle the kids’ behaviour, and even if they were, when it comes to an actual crisis they have to weigh the demands of such a child against their responsibility to teach and to maintain the safety of the whole class.

Parents tend to expect restraints to be used — “as long as it’s not their kid,” says Dr Peterson. He cites two recent cases in Iowa. In one the parents of an 11-year-old who died while being held down called for a ban on restraints; in the other, parents charged that a school failed their son by not restraining him. The boy ran away and drowned. “It’s damned if you do and damned if you don’t, Dr Peterson said, “and it reflects the level of confusion there is about this whole issue.” ~ New York Times, July 15 

Sheila Liaugminas

Sheila Liaugminas is an Emmy award-winning Chicago-based journalist in print and broadcast media. Her writing and broadcasting covers matters of faith, culture, politics and the media....