Autistic, especially non-speaking children, are one of the largest groups to be subjected to restraint and seclusion. Restraint and seclusion are the inevitable outcome of the failures of behaviorism.
Autism isn’t a “behavioral problem.” It only becomes one when autistic people are denied appropriate accommodations and mistreated. The behaviors schools are trying to modify are distress, not willful.
Meltdowns are a non-volitional neurological event, not a volitional temper tantrum. De-escalation is late in the game. The focus must be on preventing escalation by listening to the child, and responding to their needs.
The child isn’t being “challenging.” The child who is melting down is feeling challenged, most often, by their caretakers. Because the simple truth is, most meltdowns are in response to denial of accommodations.
Autism isn’t a crime. Why do schools routinely deny bodily autonomy and personhood to autistic children?
Autistic people with both high and low support needs must be accommodated.
Restraint and seclusion have no educational or therapeutic value and are not accommodations.
Behaviorism is a denial of personhood and escalates a child because it ignores the circumstances causing behaviors, which are a signal.
I like to use the metaphor of a lighthouse. A ship coming perilously close to the coastline sees a lighthouse signal. Shooting out the signal light doesn’t make the ship safer. It doesn’t change the circumstances. The lighthouse means no harm sending out the signal. It’s simply a warning of trouble. We must stop punishing signals, adjust our sails, redirect our course, and sail away from the path that is placing all involved in danger.
And make no mistake, all who spend their days in a toxic restraint and seclusion culture are in danger. Of course the child on whom it’s being inflicted is not safe, but also teachers and staff. There is data to prove that restraint and seclusion aren’t safe for teachers and staff either. Another group on whom data has not been collected, are all the other children who witness a peer being held face down into the ground, who hear another child screaming inside a seclusion cell. Plenty of data shows children in homes where there is domestic violence, even those who are not physically attacked themselves, suffer from secondary post-traumatic stress. Why are we not talking to or studying the impact of a restraint and seclusion culture on the witnesses of it when we know they harm all those directly involved?
Every single incident of restraint or seclusion is a failure of the system to appropriately accommodate a child, every single one.
How many restraints are too many?
One restraint is too many.
How many seclusions are too many?
One seclusion is too many.
The problem isn’t autistic children.
The problem is implicit bias against autistic children.
The problem is that society doesn’t see autistic people as fully human, but more like Pavlov’s dog, to be controlled and manipulated.
Autistic children have a federal right to accommodations and equal treatment under the law.
Autism isn’t a crime. Inflicting restraint and seclusion onto autistic children should be.