Friday, March 2, 2012

To Bag or Not to Bag

Recently in the news, Mercer County Intermediate School in Kentucky came under fire for an incident in which a teacher’s aide placed a child diagnosed with autism into a “duffle-like” bag filled with balls for unruly behavior in class.  According to the child’s mother, she was summoned by the school to get her son because he was “acting up” and upon arrival found him in the hall, stuffed into the tied bag, head and all.  After demanding his release, upon which the aide struggled to loosen the knot of the bag, the mother was told by school officials this was not the first time her child had been put into the bag.

I’m not a therapist, nor am I an educator of children, but I have enough intelligence, never mind common sense, to know that stuffing a child with or without special needs into a duffel-like drawstring-tied bag full of balls is wrong.  Supposedly the bag is a therapy bag, and the teacher’s aide admitted they’ve used it as punishment with this child in previous incidents.  Our professionals who work with our Kelly Autism Program (WFC-KAP) are not aware of a “therapy bag” where an entire child, head included, is placed into it.  I also understand from WFC-KAP that punishment is not a therapeutic practice, especially for children diagnosed along the autism spectrum.
This news report stirred controversial discussion, prompting an online petition calling for better training and increased awareness of those working with children who have special needs in Mercer County.  Children diagnosed along the autism spectrum require supportive sensory alternatives in the management of their environment and behaviors.  The methods of behavior management used in our WFC-KAP’s afterschool program involve positive reinforcement and redirection along with limited negative reinforcement.  I’ve watched it effectively used in my observations of the afterschool program.

Is it Mercer County’s practice to stuff any misbehaving child into a bag?  Children diagnosed with autism deserve no less respect than a child without a disability. They require behavior modification, a process which identifies a behavior in need of changing, then asking the child how s/he wishes to change it when the unacceptable behavior occurs, and what positive result the child wants to reinforce the new behavior.  This process empowers the child in making his or her own behavioral choice, and with consistent application on the part of the adult, the child shifts the modified behavior into an appropriate behavior s/he uses in everyday life.  Our WFC-KAP program director says it takes a child diagnosed with autism approximately 214 repetitions to integrate the new behavior.  I watched this process during my observation of a WFC-KAP class, and the parents of those in the program remark on the results from this consistent approach.  This process puts the students and families in control of the behavior modification, giving the child a choice, never for punishment of any kind.
Anyone diagnosed along the autism spectrum, or with an intellectual and/or developmental disability requires special needs, greater patience, and compassion from those who work closely with them, whether they are direct support providers, therapists, volunteers, medical staff, special education teachers, teacher aides, parents . . . . . the list goes on.

The president of the Mercer County Education Association, Wilma Thomas, stated, “. . . putting special needs children in bags is not unheard of in certain cases . .  .” and “if it is at that school, that is an appropriate method of restraint.”  Our WFC-KAP program director states she’s never heard of this method being used as a form of restraint, also noting her certification training taught that one only restrains when the child is a danger to himself or others.

Time will tell what really happened, as this Mercer County mother is understandably upset and pursuing the matter further with an attorney.  What concerns me is the seemingly lack of respect shown for her concerns and that of her child by the Mercer County School Board.  This impression was further cemented by Ms. Thomas’ request of the Board, “I challenge you to support our schools; do not allow them to be targets of disrespect or rumor.”

In the Next Blog Entry: No Bagging Kids Here!   “. . . . after enrolling Beau, his parents talk about the remarkable improvements of his social and behavioral skills, noting behavioral problems in social and academic settings have dramatically dropped.

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1 comment:

  1. Though on the surface I don't agree with what allegedly happened in Mercer County Intermediate School, I don't think this organization (WFC) should be judging a situation in which they were not personally involved. We don't know all the details in this situation and should therefore not jump to conclusions and condemn the school staff.