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Autism - This is No Tap Out Event!

Keep-calm-and-never-tapoutBy Geoff Dubrowsky

OK, I admit to still watch wrestling every Monday night.  Several matches lately have ended peacefully with a Tap Out. Some of the pay per view events have special rules like the dreaded steel cage or No Tap Outs allowed. That seems awful, but even I know it’s not real, or is it?

When you have a child that is so cognitively impaired, and they become so frustrated that they attempt to harm themselves what can you do? If you are home alone or alone working with a student or client you may find yourself in a No Tap Out Event!

My son has on multiple occasions tried to attack those near him. He’s 18 years old, six foot one and almost two hundred and fifty pounds, with a full healthy set of adult teeth. The attacks can grow with such intent that the options become running from the house or locking ourselves in a room until the banging on the door ends or he breaks through. These options are really not acceptable if our goal is to make sure he is safe and doesn’t hurt himself, a role we could not perform if we were not bleeding out on the floor in a batch of our own hair.

The No Tap Out rule is made even harder when an attack happens in public. We do not want him hurting himself or anyone else during these episodes. We find that even those strangers who want to help with the best intentions can escalate the moment placing them in danger and leading to potential liability issues. Local police can help if you happen to live in an area where they are trained by great organizations like POAC in New Jersey, but the police are limited as well. They are trained in non passive restraint methods and are trained to use deadly force if they feel they or others are in life threatening situation.  Nothing affected me more than telling a police officer in my own home, it was ok to take my son down, place him in cuffs and take him to the hospital.  Seeing him walk out of my house without shoes while the neighbors came out to watch, is an image I will never loose!

With the amount of stories I hear and when I see a society turning a blind eye, I realized I needed to take action. My late sister faced the No Tap Out life with her daughter and I remember her getting trained in Passive Restraint Techniques and having to be the one to keep her daughter from hurting everyone in her path. After years of battling my sister was able to Tap Out finally when her daughter was placed 17 years ago in a wonderful Developmental Center. Today her daughter is still mute, still prone to violence but has two jobs on campus and goes on numerous trips and recently medaled in the Special Olympics.

I came across an organization called Handle With Care who taught my sister and they were excited to get a parent whose life they can help. Most of their teachers and students either work in prisons, hospitals, special schools and ICFMR’s. So I went and observed a Master Teacher workshop, which is a required annual requirement for their instructors.

I learned that Handle With Care has a committed staff, teaching anyone willing to learn how to deal with a behaviorally challenged person in a way that preserves dignity. For the past 30 years there methods have proven safe and enable continued positive learning and behavioral development by preserving and enhancing the therapeutic relationship. So a month later I took the basic course and was one of only two parents to attend.

Day one was a complete day of verbal training, learning how to interact with the individual. We learned to first asses what a real danger is and use the power of observation to attempt to deescalate the situation. Training included trying to create an environment that does not make it worse. We spoke about how to understand and use affect, a topic I have always been well versed in as a student of the late Dr. Stanley Greenspan. We also learned about gestures and about how they can be misinterpreted by many. A large portion of the discussion was based on what we must do to prevent an injury to the person attacking us. This is the key difference in comparing passive restraint to either self-defense or restraints. The goal is to educate the individual that we are not here to hurt them but we also do not want them to hurt themselves.


Day two was the real deal! We learned to defend ourselves against multiple types of attacks and break holds. We learned how to perform these moves while moving our bodies out of harms way and avoiding having a closed hand or touching any joint like the elbow that could sustain major damage. We learned multiple ways to place someone into the PRT (Primary Restraint Technique) and practiced on each other so we had a chance to try people of various size and strength. We also got to feel what is was like to be in the hold, which I found to be painless but I could not move. Yes the more you struggle the more of a chance of a strain or a cramp but once you understand that you are going nowhere you naturally calm down.

Ok so now comes the No Tap Out Rule that started this article. While working with these wonderful caregivers you learn that they can work as a team. You learn that there are two or three person techniques. You realize that more than one person makes the process easier, keeping a flying fist or foot that may come loose from hurting you. Also we learned how to hand off an individual in the PRT when you are tired this is called the Tap Out. I was very vocal the entire course, but it was here that I had to ask with a sinking heart, who do I Tap Out? I already knew the answer but had to ask, the answer is no one.

So while we continue to watch our kids grow, and while we continue to see facilities close, we must realize that We Cannot Tap Out!  

Geoffrey Dubrowsky. MBA is a member of the New Jersey Council on Developmental Disabilities, Vice President of the Board of Extreme Sports Camp for Autistic Individuals and Executive Board member of VOR.

A professional video producer, with credits including, the Republican National Convention broadcast and Dr. Stanley Greenspan's Floortime series, Geoffrey and his wife are parent of an 18-year-old boy with severe autism. Uncle and guardian of two developmentally disabled young adults on various ends of the disability spectrum.  Also, past Pres. of the New Jersey Chapter of Cure Autism Now, past vice president of and NYAC New York families of autistic children ,and past Director of Development for POAC Parents of Autistic Children.


Donna L.

"who do I Tap Out? I already knew the answer but had to ask, the answer is no one."
Boy, this just sums up the whole rotten deal,doesn't it?

I think the closest approximation I've ever seen to the sheer desperation involved in autism parenting is in that movie 127 Hours - that moment when he finally realizes that there is not a single person on earth who can help him, that he's entirely on his own. Only this isn't some isolated adventure we can write a book about later on, it's everyday life for decades on end. Absurd!

Offit wouldn't last a single day.


Tap out Vicki is when an opponent gives up.
Geoff used this expression as a metaphor in different ways in his article

When he talked about his niece --referring that she had tapped out - meaning she has come out of her violent behavior enough to function in society.

Geoff then uses tap out expression again as a metaphor in place of a wrestling tag team when he was talking about -- one member of the wrestling team gives a chance of another member to compete by tagging the other member of the team to come in while he bows out.. But in this case Geoff points out that with autism the wrestling tag team member is really wore out and it is more of a tap out - than a tag off . Geoff also wonders when he is home alone and he gets tired restraining his son who is he going to tag off to - or tap out to.

Scary stuff!

Senator Dan Burton wondered the same thing years ago when he told us all that his son was going to probably grow to around a six foot tall man.

Kentucky built a very nice complex back in the 70s for those with disabilities. By the late 90s and earlier this century the state had to come in and fire every last one of the staff for abuse -- and some of the staff were even arrested and trials were held. I don't konw what they were doing to these mentally disabled but it was more than restaints -- but not as bad as shock treatments -- a couple of the residents had died while in restraints - not being held down.

Tap Dancer

A submission (depending on the context also referred to as a "tap out" or "tapping out") is a combat sports term for yielding to the opponent, and hence resulting in an immediate defeat. The submission is commonly performed by clearly tapping the floor or the opponent with the hand or sometimes with the foot, to signal the opponent and possibly the referee of the submission. The submission can also be verbal, during which the fighter verbally informs that he is giving up. In some combative sports where the fighter has cornermen, the corner can also stop the fight by "throwing in the towel", which may count as a submission or grapple.

Vicki Hill

You have brought up a good point, but could you please define "Tap Out" for those of us not into wrestling? I Googled the term, but found a variety of confusing definitions which did not seem to apply to this article.

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