Rethinking Restraints -- They're Not Just for Special Needs Children Like Mine

sad girl sitting and  thinking in the classroom
sad girl sitting and thinking in the classroom

I know I should have been shocked by the video of the student being thrown to the floor in a classroom in South Carolina. But I wasn't. As the mother of a child with autism, I know all about the use of restraints and seclusion. The problem is that parents with typically functioning children don't. You've thought that something like this could never happen to their child.

Well, think again.

Did you know that this situation is happening every day in schools around the country? I find that usually the conversation surrounding restraints and seclusion applies to children with disabilities. But in this latest video, there is no indication that the student had any special needs. In fact, many states that have passed legislation provide protection from restrictive practices only to children with disabilities. This means that children in the general education population can be treated in any way the school deems necessary. Did you think that your child was safe from this?

Think again.

Sadly, South Carolina is one of several states that offers absolutely NO meaningful protection to any student, disabled or not, around the use of restrictive practices. While they have guidelines, these are voluntary and impose no mandatory legal obligation. There are no restrictions on restraints. None. The only restriction on seclusion is built into the fire code which allows locked seclusion if the lock can automatically open. There are no requirements for the school to notify the parents of the child who is restrained or secluded. And while reporting it to the district is suggested, it is not required. Did you think that if your child was restrained or secluded you would automatically be notified?

Think again.

People want to know how something like this situation in South Carolina could happen. The lack of protections is how. The lack of understanding is how. And it can and will happen again. How do I know? Because there are 23 states that don't legally limit restraint for all children. Did you think that this wasn't happening in almost half of the United States?

Think again.

But one of the things I've noticed since writing my most recent blog post (hyperlink here) is that people, in large part, seem to think that these practices are not only acceptable, but deserved. People think about a classroom peer having a meltdown or aggressive episode and don't want their child exposed to that, placing them in fear and disrupting their educational time. But what about what happened in South Carolina? Was this student's refusal to leave the classroom disrupting the rest of the class's opportunity to learn? Sure. Was she placing the other students in fear? I don't see how. Were they in danger? No. Not until restrictive practices were used. Then the fear began, for everyone in that room. Every child there has now experienced trauma. Every child in class yesterday has been impacted by a situation that was nothing more than a power struggle. And do we adults really need to prove how big we are by emotionally and physically abusing children? Is this how we are going to force our kids to comply and behave? Is this how we help our children learn how to effectively resolve conflicts? What exactly are we trying to teach? What is wrong with us as a society that we understand so little about trauma and its impact on developing brains? And what's wrong with us that we care so little? Did you think that our schools protected our children and kept them safe?

Think again.

You can help change this! You can talk to your state lawmakers about the legislation in your state. You can ask for more protections to be put in place to help protect children from having their education and their lives negatively impacted by adults using these practices as a way of exercising power and control. You can ask your state department of education to train their teachers on trauma and ways to de-escalate and ways to eliminate the use of restraints. Because this isn't discipline. This is abuse. And our children don't deserve this.

It's time for all of us to think again.