Saturday, March 24, 2007

Pressure Applied to Autistics

photo credit- leappbaby

In a troubling incident in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a mother is accusing the school system of child abuse for "rolling up" her 7 year old autistic son when he was out of control. This incident is troubling for a couple of reasons. First, most likely this is an all too common scenario of untrained staff overreacting in an inappropriate manner.
...The mom told police the boy's face, neck and shoulders were covered with marks that appeared to be tiny broken blood vessels under his skin. We talked to the doctor who saw the boy that day. He said the injuries were likely from screaming while being in a tight restraint for a long time. ...

This description is consistent with the child having force applied to him (squeezed tightly) while he was "rolled up". It was fortunate that asphyxiation injury did not occur, which could have caused brain damage or death. Although the injuries in this case were certainly uncalled for and serious, they didn't warrant any medical attention, and the child has returned to school.

The parent may be absolutely correct in pursuing legal redress, but this case is also troubling in that stories like this only serve to paint all autistic kids as wild, violent, and out of control, which makes it easier to dehumanize them and leads to societal acceptance of further abuse.

I certainly sympathize with the mother. About 18 months ago I had a similar incident occur with Buddy Boy. Although he did not end up with petechiae, and it wasn't a part of his Positive Behavioral Support Plan, staff at the school wrapped him in a heavy rug while he was screaming at them that he didn't want to be wrapped up. Deep pressure only works if it's what the person is seeking to calm themself, not if they're just pissed off about some innane thing that you're doing to them.

But I hate to see these things made into police matters. I'm worried that the next time the child is perceived to be "out of control" that the school calls the police, who will treat the child as a criminal and taser them (or worse). I'd much rather the school district act responsibly and realize that this technique was absolutely wrong (and could have resulted in worse injury or death), apologize (I can dream), immediately have an IEP meeting to determine whether the Positive Behavioral Support Plan that was in place was followed, and whether that plan needs to be revised.

The school district has already lined up another parent of an autistic child to defend their practice. So even if the original child's Positive Behavioral Support Plan wasn't followed, and even if the district overstepped their bounds, this case is lost in the forum of public opinion, and the biggest losers are all autistics, who are further viewed as violent, out of control, subhuman creatures.

Joe is 211


Maddy said...

Golly - I came at this from a completely different angle when I first saw the picture. We often roll-up the boys in a blanket and then unravel them with a flourish - they love it! To them it's a game, for us, it's a way of calming them down when they're 'sparking.'
We learned this technique early on from one of their OT's. I hadn't heard that it was
a] used in schools
b] was used to restrain / calm.
I was going to say that it must be a very progressive school to use this technique IN ADVANCE of the meltdown, when they're building up, as it were.
Sadly, as usual I'm 180 degrees wrong.
Best wishes

Club 166 said...

I agree, that it can be a very effective technique in advance of a meltdown, and when it is perceived as calming to the person on the receiving end.

I think that this is a prime example of "a little bit of knowledge being dangerous". Some schools take the knowledge that deep pressure can be calming in some instances in some people, and turn it into deep pressure restraint will calm all autistics down when they are already decompensating.

And what you end up with is possibly dangerous situations where suffocation is possible.

Daisy said...

The key word I use (in my life as teacher) is de-escalate. Restraint is a last resort. I hope the heavy pressure isn't the last resort. It doesn't sound very effective in that role.

The Jedi Family of Blogs said...

We have also found that deep pressure only works when our son wants it, so if we catch things pre-melt-down he's usually happy too accept it & then it's very effective in prevention. He utterly rejects it, though, if he's already too worked-up. I can imagine why Buddy was upset about being wrapped when he didn't want to be. Lets hope school gets the clue...