This issue is an important one for our organization. Our mission is to provide young families living with autism with the information, strategies and support they need to engage fully in their homes, schools and community. If their schools are not a safe place for them, or parents are not aware of practices that may be antithetical to their child’s full engagement, then we believe something needs to change. For more details on the impact of this issue read the Star Tribune article from April 2013 here. – Shannon
When we send our children to school we expect teaching with patience and skill. Yet, state reports show that prone restraint, a physical hold that pins a child face down on the floor, was used in 1,756 cases in 2012, involving 254 children. More than a quarter (31%) of the reported incidents involved students with autism. This is a big deal.
Some children with autism display challenging behavior during the course of their school day. They have difficulty managing frustrations, they misunderstand directions, they have social communication problems, and they lack the verbal skills to communicate their distress. Through behavior they communicate when they are having difficulty. This behavior doesn’t need to be managed. The child, our children, need to be taught more adaptive behavior.
There is evidence to support the effectiveness of positive behavior supports and interventions. There is no evidence to support that seclusion or prone restraints teach a child with autism how to adapt his behavior. That is what an individualized education plan (IEP) is all about.
It is disappointing that the use of prone restraint was extended until 2015 by the Minnesota legislature. The rationale was that the Department of Education needs more time to gather data from schools. It is already clear from the report that prone restraint is being used, many times with the same child. It is hard on the child. It is also hard on the staff. Holding a child face down on the floor is tough for everyone. School staff need support and training. There are training resources on the use of positive behavior supports, proactive strategies, and functional communication strategies that can be specifically designed for a student. This takes time and effort, but it works. The alternative doesn’t.
Children with autism pay a lot of attention to routine and structure. When a technique like prone restraint is used, the student learns that is part of the day. A child, who cannot calm himself and communicate his needs, has no options for a future in our community. The implications for family life are chilling as the child grows.
So, what can we do? Know the law.
- Minnesota statue requires a school district that intends to use restrictive procedures to say so on its web site or in a paper copy for parents. Check your school’s web site.
- Ask about prone restraint at your IEP meeting. You might be asked to agree to the use of a restrictive procedure in an emergency. Ask who has been trained to use prone restraint. You can object. Insist the team work through a behavior intervention plan that includes teaching adaptive behavior.
- If you learn that prone restraint was used on your child in an emergency, be sure it was used as an immediate intervention to protect your child or other individual from physical injury. It cannot be used to discipline.
- Be sure that if prone restraint was used by your school, it reports to you the same day, or within 2 days.
- Prone restraint cannot be used on a child under five years old.
The Minnesota Department of Education is continuing to promote positive behavior supports and interventions through training, monitoring, and reporting. Districts must report prone restraint use to MDE within five working days. Data will help the commissioner make a progress report to eliminate the use of restrictive procedures and to promote to the use of positive behavior supports. We look forward to the day when Minnesota joins many other states who prohibit the use of prone restraints and restrictive procedures.
For now, the safety and quality of your child’s education continues to rest in your hands. This type of parent advocacy takes effort, knowledge, and courage.