Back to school can be a challenging time for neurodivergent students

Today’s guest author is Linda Kryvoruka

Linda Kryvoruka is a retired Nurse Anesthetist who was always interested in social justice issues relating to disadvantaged populations, victims of wars and genocide, and child advocacy, especially regarding school systems and their methods of enforcing behavior. Linda is an alumnus participating in the Transitional Justice Lab at the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution, with a special focus on carceral spaces and the school-to-prison pipeline. Linda is also now a volunteer with the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint.


Back to school is generally seen as a time for new clothes, new teachers, and new challenges for students of all ages. To autistic students, students with genetic conditions affecting behavior, and other disabled students, these activities can be fraught with landmines. How will they fit into these learning environments? Will the teachers understand your child’s individual needs? How best can your child access the curriculum while self-regulating his emotions and behavior?

The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint wants corporal punishment banned in all 50 states.

Today 19 states still employ corporal punishment tactics and measures that endanger children and threaten their safety. The rationale for seclusion and restraint is that a student needs to be removed from the classroom when he poses a threat to himself or others. There is no federal law on how these tactics are used or how long a child is forced into confined isolation. Is it 8 minutes or 8 hours? These punishments are discretionary, and it is unclear who decides these “last resort” measures in each school system. How many parents are informed about when, why, and how these students are restrained and secluded?

Restraint involves restricting a student’s movement through physical force or medication. For some students, being touched by another person can be a very traumatic experience. Restraint can be as minimal as pulling a child away from another person or object by touching his arm, physically strapping a student down, and applying arm and leg restraints to prevent movement.

Seclusion rooms are usually small, empty enclosures without windows or chairs with windows in the doors and magnetic locks. Make no mistake, the child is placed there involuntarily and cannot leave. Although the US Dept. of Education’s Office for Civil Rights requires school districts to report every time a student is restrained or secluded, as well as parental notification, the reported cases fall short, and many believe they are inaccurate. The federal watchdog, the Government Accountability Office, is investigating the quality of the data that school districts are reporting. So far, it seems that the numbers consistently show an under-reporting of these incidents. Most states still allow restraint and seclusion and require some form of regulation, reporting, and notification systems for parents; some, like Virginia, have no reporting requirements.

Last week, Missouri’s Cassville school district re-instated “paddling” as a last resort discipline measure, stating that the parents requested more forms of discipline through an anonymous survey.

This measure allows up to 2 paddles to a child’s buttocks and no more than three paddles to an adolescent/teenager. They must be done with a witness present and away from other students. Parents must be notified after the paddling occurs. No paddling or physical force is to be applied to the head or face. Parents can either “opt-in” or “opt-out” at any time. Since the US Supreme Court ruled that corporal punishment in schools was constitutional, it was left up to the states to enforce it, and Missouri is one of the remaining 19 states that allows it.

Who does not give permission? The student. All corporal punishment especially administered to a learning-disabled child, a non-speaking, or someone with poor behavior regulation, leaves the child traumatized, regressed, and scared. In many documented cases of prone restraint, some children and adolescents have died from asphyxia. Those voices are silenced forever. These students can face nightmares, shame, humiliation, and a hatred of school. Some may resort to self-destructive impulses. We can and must do better to ensure that all students are safe in any environment away from the security of their parents and homes.

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