Making Positive Change Through Negative Experiences

The Story of Sam Maloney

Today’s guest author is Debra Pierce Bellare.  Debra has a background in education with a focus on alternative learning. Over the last ten years, she has been advocating to stop the harmful practice of restraint and seclusion used in the public and private school systems in New York State. Her son Sam, was a victim of these harmful practices. Debra and her son’s current campaign, Autism on US Routes 11 & 20, is to change Autism Awareness to Autism Acceptance which is currently the push in multiple advocacy groups. It is her hope that the change in language to “Acceptance” will help change the mindset of professionals to find a better way to address challenging behavior.

How do you change a negative into a positive? When you are talking about using restraints on children and then pushing them in a seclusion closet, it is almost impossible to imagine that you can change these horrific experiences into a positive thought.

Sam and his mother Debra

Sam Maloney is a talented nineteen-year-old who uses his camera to showcase his gift of seeing life through a different lens. Sam was diagnosed with ASD when he was three years old. The Developmental Pediatrician concluded that Sam didn’t fit in the box of “Classic Autism” so he was put outside of the box as PDD NOS. Unfortunately, the school district decided that Autism is a cognitive disability which is a myth. Autism is a neurological disability that is all tied into the central nervous system. In my experience, autistic people are some of the smartest people on earth. Having a cognitive disability attached to any diagnosis is a co-morbid condition meaning it is completely separate from the main diagnosis.

Sam is a talented and passionate photographer. Photograph by Michael Thaxton Photography.

Sam’s restraints started at age five when he was pulled from an appropriate outside of district placement. The objective was to save money. Sam’s best interests were insignificant. I was diagnosed with cancer in 2007 and I was unable to fight for Sam. Being isolated in life, there wasn’t a soul to take my place. All of Sam’s autism services were removed. Sam fell through the cracks and once I fully recovered in 2010, I was unable to get any of the services back into his Individualized Education Plan (IEP).

Photography by Sam Maloney see his portfolio at

Sam’s had one simple need and that was for assistive technology. His co-morbid conditions include dysgraphia, dyspraxia (Sam’s speech did come at age five), dyscalculia, sensory integration, and auditory processing. Calming Sam was not a conundrum. Heavy lifting and a feeling of success were needed for Sam to get through his school day. Instead of assistive technology, Sam received eight years of restraints and being thrown into a seclusion closest resulting in bruises, abrasions, contusions and a diagnosis of PTSD. The trauma will be with him forever and it is a burden for Sam that it is now his job to learn how to live with the memories of trauma.

How do you change a negative into a positive while talking about restraint and seclusion in our public and private school systems across the world? For me, the positive is the coalitions that are getting bigger and stronger across the world. Changes will be made and people like Sam can make that change happen. People like Sam can feel at peace knowing that this cruelty isn’t happening to someone else.

Sam wants to be part of this growing coalition to share his story. Hopefully, Sam will obtain and be trained in the assistive technology he needs in his disability self-employment program to write down the words he wants to share.

As Sam gains confidence, people will begin to see him talk more about the use of restraint and seclusion.

Sam has a lot to say.

Cover Photography by Sam Maloney see his portfolio at

Categories People, Story

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