Today’s guest author is Bridget Narsh.
Bridget is a wife and mom to three kids ages 16, 15 and 10. Mother of 3 pets Koko (service dog), Max the cat and Scout the bearded dragon. Bridget is an advocate and voice for her neurodivergent children. She and her family live in North Carolina.
Back in the day, I would usually start my IEP (Individualized Education Program) meetings with a statement like, “Restraint should be the last resort, or things will go downhill quickly.” Every year it seemed to get worse after the first restraint would happen. It was just the beginning of a long road ahead for my son, who is autistic, and has ADHD, anxiety, and PTSD. When he was in public school, he was restrained and secluded. He stopped doing all academics after being secluded and would elope almost daily. I was constantly on call to come up to school! Mason would tell me who would hold each leg and each arm. I guess I consider myself lucky he could tell me what happened. He has an elephant brain and maintains everything, which is a good and a bad thing.
Mason started carrying his Woof Woof and Mr. Catfish stuffed animals one year before the seclusions. My guess as to why he wanted them with him at all times was due to the restraints that were frequently happening. One day the teacher gave everyone a cupcake and not Mason due to him walking too slowly from one building to the next. He had to be restrained by the buses because he was upset over not getting a bday cupcake. Another day he had taken an art tool, and the way they requested it back caused an elopement. His comfort stuffed animals were taken from him, and he ran to the woods. Once again, a hold was done.
I remember getting a call at noon when he was at the hospital because he was upset that his stuffed animals were in the fridge. Mason was asymptomatic for COVID, so he was quarantined in seclusion, and his stuffed animals were in seclusion in the fridge. He did not have to ride in a police car to the psych hospital this time. Mason rode in an ambulance with a police escort.
Sometimes we would have to call 911, ride in an ambulance, call a crisis line, or call his psychiatrist on his cell phone. These were my only options before the waiver services. One day he eloped near a busy street, and I was happy to see a police force with great training and a mobile crisis team coming to the scene. Unfortunately, that day he was given an injection that most likely caused neuroleptic malignant syndrome (NMS). NMS is a rare, life-threatening allergy, and he was in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit (PICU) for a few days.
Mason cycled in and out of the emergency department (ED) and psychiatric hospitals until he got the reserved capacity (the emergency waiver). Most wait over 12 years for the waiver services. He has been able to stay out of the emergency room for two years. The ED uses three types of restraints, and I have seen him in all three types. One day he actually was able to pull the bolted bed off the floor while he was in restraints. Security was called, and they had this “you do what I tell you to do” response. He used to have panic attacks over certain nurses and security holding his legs down. I saw him once dragged like trash by a security officer and deposited in this windowless room area he refers to as the blue basement. Once, a nurse made him write “I’m sorry” on a piece of paper ten times, horrifying his private school staff.
Young children and adults sometimes wait a very long time in the ED for a psych bed to open up in the state, and the transport to these beds is by a police car. His longest stay in the ED was 28 days in a windowless area with no access to fresh air. The state psychiatric hospital does not use any type of restraints but uses a calm-down room. The first thing they would do was call me to approve the intramuscular injections (IM) they could use to calm him down. Mason used to take 16 pills a day, including Minipress, which they use for war veterans to help with nightmares.
Today he is doing great compared to three years ago. He has the mental health support he needs with the innovations waiver and his service dog Koko. Mason does not carry Woof Woof and Mr. Catfish everywhere anymore. When he first got Koko as a puppy, it was the first time I saw him smile in years. He now attends a therapeutic school and feels safe in his environment so he can do his academics again.
Schools must take a proactive approach instead of waiting for the behaviors to happen and taking action at that time. Staff needs to be trained properly! Seclusion and restraint did not help Mason at all. Mason wanted his story to be shared so he could help others.