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Take The Keys and Lock Them Up. Amer-ican Children.

Seclusion roomOur Anne Dachel is like Dickens' Madame Defarge, knitting a long long list of egregious actions within the ever exploding realm of special education. She has hundreds 0f stories of how school districts are being crushed by the epidemic of kids on IEPs and with serious emotional and mental challenges.  The result is often horrendous care for our children. Below is a sample of her compilation, about the hideous practices of restraint and seclusion.  Just last week on Facebook a friend discovered that her son's new school has a "calm" room. That's a euphemism for a seclusion room.


If parents were to lock their children in a confined space for a lengthy period of time, it is highly likely that those parents would be arrested for child abuse and their parental rights threatened. (In fact, this just happened in Arizona recently.)

If public schools do this, however, the outcome is quite different.

The use of physical restraints, locked “seclusion rooms,” and solitary confinement for children is rampant throughout the nation’s public schools.

In a comprehensive 2014 analysis by NPR and ProPublica, analysts found that “restraint and seclusion were used at least 267,000 times nationwide” in the 2011-2012 school year. Schools put children in seclusion rooms approximately 104,000 times in that one year.

ProPublica reports that the restraint and seclusion practices included “pinning uncooperative children facedown on the floor, locking them in dark closets and tying them up with straps, handcuffs, bungee cords or even duct tape.”

Many school officials contend that using restraints and locked seclusion for children are sometimes necessary when children are out of control in the school building and need to calm down. But a 2014 U.S. Senate report on these practices argues that these extreme tactics are unnecessary and damaging to children.

The report asserts:

There is no evidence that physically restraining or putting children in unsupervised seclusion in the K-12 school system provides any educational or therapeutic benefit to a child. In fact, use of either seclusion or restraints in non-emergency situations poses significant physical and psychological danger to students.

Particularly troubling is that the NPR/Pro Publica analysis of school seclusion and restraint practices found that the vast majority of the cases (75 percent) involved children with disabilities.

In a separate analysis earlier this year, the Education Week Research Center found that 70,000 special education students were restrained or secluded in the 2013-2014 school year.

The Serious Consequences of Restraining Children

Beyond the obvious emotional trauma to a child of being physically restrained or locked in a secluded room, these restraint and seclusion practices sometimes result in serious injury.

A 2012 ABC News investigation found that “thousands of autistic and disabled schoolchildren have been injured and dozens have died” from the use of seclusion and restraint protocols in the nation’s public schools. ….

Actions that are considered criminal when parents do them are somehow tolerated in the nation’s public schools. Locking children in dark closets or physically restraining them with ropes and ties can cause serious emotional trauma and bodily harm. Parents shouldn’t do it, and neither should the state.


Grace Green

Hera, that's very interesting - consider me educated! I agree with the rest of your comment on how to deal with these problems in special ed. As someone with "high functioning" autism, I don't pretend to understand the more severely affected, but I do wonder about these types of behaviour, and whether the children really are just behaving badly, or whether, like me, they often completely misunderstand the situation, and may feel threatened, or not know what is expected of them. Certainly, all the stuff I've seen on ABA, and the few such teachers I've met, lead me to believe they haven't got the first clue about the root causes of autistic people's difficulties. This particular practice sounds really cruel.


Hi Grace Green,
"acting out" in the American sense means something more along the lines of "expressing your emotions in inappropriate ways" . In common parlance it is kind of used as a gentler way of saying "behaving badly"
From Merriam Webster
to behave badly or in a socially unacceptable often self-defeating manner especially as a means of venting painful emotions (such as fear or frustration)

It is not used to describe a kid/person putting on an act, just a kid/person who is overwhelmed and whose actions are inappropriate. Hope this helps.

Re the lesson changes. You would hope that they can adjust that sort of thing so that it helps the individual child. However, I was talking to someone the other day about some of our families more bizarre special ed experiences in the past and we agreed that the rule was "never underestimate the potential for incompetence in special ed." ( Having said that, right now my son is having a great experience in special ed, for which we are very grateful)
There may be times when it is appropriate to help a child learn to transition from one thing to the next and deal with changes, since that is a good life skill to have, but if you are having to put someone in a closet, it doesn't seem like they what they are doing is working. And there is a big difference between having access to a comfortable, pleasant place that a child could choose to go to to get calm in, and that could perhaps provide a relief from too much stimulus, and someone being locked in a dark closet, or being duct taped or handcuffed.
There is also the question of safety. if a kid with a high pain tolerance for example is trying to slam their head repeatedly against a wall, I would hope the school would try and get them to a safe place surrounded by pillows.

Grace Green

Emily, thanks for that quote. I'm horrified, as I have been when I've seen TV programmes on ABA. I'm probably being autistic here, but Why does a child have to change from one lesson to another? I would have thought a school designed for autistic kids would take account of their difficulties. It may seem a trivial point, but I find the American use of the word "acting" to describe these kids behaviour unfortunate. Maybe you don't mean it that way, but just in case, I can assure you the kids are not acting, they really don't have a clue what they're doing wrong. Speaking from personal experience!


Loving families dealing with severity of a range of the most severe end of range of difficult behaviours
need respite breaks with all avalible support going . this is a equivilant to a summary I would have made in a formal report in 1990 So where are we now ?


@Bill, the truly disturbing part in all of this is that it's not just public schools with poorly trained aides thinking it is fine locking the kids in "time out rooms" due to behaviors. Even the most highly trained BCBA's and therapists (and take the phrase "highly trained" with a grain of salt!!) at ABA centers are doing this on a regular basis. I read the following article and am sickened that instead of seeing behavior as communication they simply just lock the child in a timeout closet. Can you imagine schools doing this to typical children? Never! however sadly somehow these schools have the right to implement this kind of awful treatment to kids on the spectrum. NECC is truly disgusting but many of the so called "quality centers" in MA. and elsewhere use time out rooms constantly. Can you only imagine what is going through the child's mind when they are locked in these rooms? How frustrating must it be for them to know that people do not care to figure out what they are trying to express with their behaviors. I would honestly say the $150,000 ABA centers are the worst offenders, even over the public schools.

School expands on mission to aid autistic children
Teacher Jessica Thompson instructs students during a preschool class at the New England Center for Children. Teacher Jessica Thompson instructs students during a preschool class at the New England Center for Children. (PHOTOS BY BILL POLO/GLOBE STAFF)
By John Dyer, Globe Correspondent | August 9, 2007

When a particular student acts up, Amy Giles sometimes places the girl in a tiny, windowless room and closes the door. Then Giles stands outside the closet-like chamber, waiting patiently until the child settles down.

If it were another child, it might seem cruel. But Giles, a Westborough resident, is probably that student’s best chance for a quality education. Giles teaches at the New England Center for Children on Route 9 in Southborough, a school that is at the forefront of educating children with autism, a neurological disorder that dramatically inhibits the way a child learns.

“We don’t want to be the biggest program for autism,” said Judy Cunniff Serio, director of administration. “We want to be the best.”

The center, founded in 1975, is in the midst of a major expansion.

In November, the center plans to open its $5.5 million, 11,400-square-foot Therapeutic Aquatic Center, which includes an Olympic-sized swimming pool and conference rooms for staff and students.

And in June, the center signed an agreement with health authorities in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, to start a program for autistic children. Teachers from the center will start their first lessons with 48 students at the end of the year, and over the next 10 years, the center hopes to expand the program to include 100 staff members, with half coming directly from the Southborough campus.

The school is distinguished by its emphasis on both educating students and conducting research. While she works as a teacher, for instance, Giles is also earning credit for a master’s degree from Northeastern University in applied behavior analysis — a term that covers the study of how one’s surroundings contribute to behavior change. The discipline is the center’s specialty, according to Cunniff Serio. The center also offers degrees through Framingham State College and Simmons College.

“You become a really skilled clinician as a teacher with all those experiences,” said Sally Roberts of Watertown, a former teacher at the center who now works there as a psychologist.

So when Giles sends her student into that tiny room, it isn’t punishment. It’s a treatment called “removal for reinforcement” for a girl with autism who exploded because it was time to move from one lesson to the next. Without the serenity of the room, Giles’s student might never regain the focus she needs to continue a day of learning.

“She has a little difficulty with transitions,” Giles said, not without compassion.

Children grow mentally by watching their mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, and other people around them, Cunniff Serio said. Healthy kids do it every day, as any parents watching their child learn how to take their first steps, play catch, or speak a foreign language can attest.

For autistic kids, life isn’t that simple, Cunniff Serio said. They don’t glean lessons from their environment. They don’t necessarily notice how their big brother sits quietly at meals. They often can’t focus on the conversations going on around them.

Most autistic children start showing signs of lacking the tools to develop normally by 18 months, she said. Forty percent of autistic children do not speak, for example. Many shirk from meeting other people’s eyes. But some may appear normal and are able to operate normally or might even excel in other ways.


I've seen this with my own eyes.... I worked with a disabled single mother and her mildly (probably non-autism) disabled daughter. A local elementary school, - where I myself attended 5th grade decades ago now, - had a "quiet room", which was a very large, bare, brick-walled closet. the girl had been placed in the "quiet room" several times. After I began working with the family, and visiting the school, the school suddenly decorated and livened up the "quiet room". The atmosphere in the "special ed" classroom was noisy and chaotic. None of the teachers and "aides" were bad people, but too many of them were poorly educated, poorly trained, poorly supervised, poorly paid, and expected to follow outdated ideas and rules that too often did more harm than good. There was far too much reliance on unrealistic expectations of "good behavior" from the kids, and too little attempt to provide the real human bonding and support the kids most need. And this in a wealthy, "liberal" area!
As a society, we ALL have become too often "bad parents", and we ALL need to realize that.
(That little girl was later wrongly, fraudulently, illegally, taken from her home, put in "placement", later sent to a State institution, and DRUGGED with brain-damaging Seroquel. In the MANY, MANY hours I spent with her and her Mother, I NEVER had ANY trouble with her at all. I always treated her with respect, patience, tolerance, and kindness, and too often, those simple things were MISSING from the local schools, Agencies, Courts, etc.,.... Sad, very sad.....)
(c)2017, Tom Clancy, Jr., *NON-fiction

Time out

Time-out rooms are now described in building codes. Google 453.26 building code to read the requirements for those rooms.

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