Friday, March 19, 2010

Seclusion Rooms and the Like

I found this opinion piece in my google reader feed. Ill-equipped school staff are handling "disruptive" students by placing them (sometimes forcibly) into small, enclosed, quiet rooms for some period of time. Other programs use restraints inappropriately. One problem, as I see it, with using punitive discipline with special needs students is it is often applied without a clear understanding of what leads up to the "mis"-behavior (antecedent), and therefore does not address what the student's behavior is trying to achieve.

For example, Johnny taps his pencil loudly on his desk during a work time when the students are supposed to be doing a quiet writing exercise. He does not respond to the teacher's reminders to be quiet. Eventually the teacher makes him stand in the back of the room because he is tapping louder and bothering other students. The next day he does the same thing. The pattern continues and soon Johnny is not finishing any of his writing projects. Johnny has learned that to get out of sitting quietly and writing he just needs to tap his pencil loud enough to irritate the teacher. The teacher is giving a consistent response, and one that some children would respond to, but for Johnny it reinforces his negative behavior by helping him avoid an undesirable activity. Only a person trained in behavioral analysis should suggest appropriate responses to negative behaviors of students with special needs. My guess is Johnny should still have to do his writing, even if he does it in the back of the room where he doesn't disturb other students.

Beyond the counter-productive misuse of punitive measures, a U.S. Government Accountability Office study found that in some cases these methods have caused physical harm to students including death. Students with special needs are disproportionately subject to such aversive treatment because school staff are inadequately trained to respond to their behavioral challenges in appropriate ways.

Recently a good friend traveled to Washington D.C. with an advocacy group to support, among other measures, the Restraint and Seclusion Act (House of Representatives Bill 4247, Senate Bill 2860). This bill has now passed in the House of Representatives and appears to be in committee in the Senate. Keep your eye on this as it is important for the safety and emotional well-being of many children with special needs.


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