Today’s guest author is Greg Santucci. Greg is a Pediatric Occupational Therapist and founder of Power Play Pediatric Therapy. A Graduate of Penn State (BS, Exercise and Sport Science) and Thomas Jefferson University (MS, Occupational Therapy), prior to opening Power Play in 2006, Greg was the Director of two large pediatric practices in New Jersey. He is certified in Sensory Integration and has been helping children and their families, both in private practice and in the public schools, since 1999. Dedicated to best practice, Greg presents workshops nationally on topics related to sensory processing, challenging behaviors, and improving school-based therapy services.
I sat in the seclusion room.
It was right outside the door of a classroom. The room was empty, with old wrestling mats on the floor and walls. In every sense of the word, it was a “padded room” in a school.
There was a small glass panel on the door so the adult could “watch” the child.
The room was supposed to be used only in extreme cases. However, if you build it, teachers will use it. They used it. A lot.
Aggressive behavior = seclusion room
Disruptive behavior = seclusion room
Defiant behavior = seclusion room
I sat in the room, on the floor, hugging my knees, and I tried to put myself in the mind of a child who was placed in there for “bad behavior”.
It was dimly lit. The mats were cold and uncomfortable. There was literally nothing in the room. There was nothing to help calm myself; nothing to distract myself; nothing at all.
If I were a child who was dysregulated and put in the room, there was nothing available to help me get regulated. Not a person, not a tool- nothing. The adult “watching” was just there to make sure I wasn’t hurting myself. At a moment when a child needs help, there was only somebody there to “watch”. If you’re trained to believe that challenging behavior is “attention seeking” (it’s not), doing anything but ignoring the behavior in that moment would be considered “reinforcing”. It’s wrong, and it’s damaging.
It wasn’t uncommon to hear a child letting out their frustration by hitting the mats and screaming. That’s all they could do. It’s all they had.
I sat there in silence.
I felt helpless.
I felt alone.
It was awful.
No problems were being solved. No regulation strategies were being taught. There wasn’t a single thing being done to prevent a behavior from happening again, except using the room as a threat, because the room is horrible. That’s no way to “teach” a child.
I hated sitting in that room.
Don’t ever put a child in a seclusion room. The power of human connection is stronger than any room with padded walls.