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Autism Abuse in Iowa, What We've Got Here Is A Failure To Communicate

Posted Sep 12 2008 3:23am

"What we've got here is failure to communicate."
— spoken by "The Captain", played byStrotherMartin , Cool Hand Luke

"What we've got here is a failure to communicate."
— spoken by "Luke", played by Paul Newman, Cool Hand Luke


In School Leader Defends Time Out the Des Moines Register reports on the explanation offered by the superintendent of the Waukee school district for the placement of an autistic school child in a "time out" room for more than three hours, even after she wet herself and even after she had struggled to obey the rules so that she could be let out. The superintendent states that the district will not change its policies concerning time out use, urges parents to be more involved in their children's schooling (implicitly blame the parents), and points out that some children want to go to time out. It is clear from the superintendent's explanation that he has missed the point of the reaction to his district's treatment of this autistic child.

"I wanted to reassure our parents that their children are going to be looked out for and cared for in the most appropriate way," he said Wednesday. "I think the article gave the impression we're taking kids willy-nilly down to these timeout rooms, and that's not the case and certainly never has been."
...

"Your child WILL NOT utilize a timeout room without your prior permission nor without you having the opportunity to view the timeout room," he wrote in the letter to parents.

The superintendent fails to understand that it is not the use of a time out room with an autistic child per se that created the outrage in this instance. It is leaving the child in the room for such a long period of time even after she has wet herself and even after she has struggled to comply with the rules. That is what was wrong in this case, it is HOW the time out room was used that was offensive in this case.

The superintendent, if he is truly an educator, and the district, might educate themselves about autism. Some autistic children should not be "mainstreamed". I do not know this child's abilities or deficits and do not pretend to know whether she should be in a mainstream classroom on a full time basis. But where the Des Moines paper indicates that she has frequently been sent to time out it is possible that she is overwhelmed by her classroom environment and might function better in a quieter, more isolated environment. She could then be brought into the classroom for specific activities and for defined periods of time.

My profoundly autistic son was overwhelmed by his classroom environment and was biting his wrists each day at school. He was removed to a more isolated location and the biting stopped and his learning, with an aide, improved. He visits the classroom for socialization, for specific activities within his range of abilities and for defined periods of time. Some of his peers visit in his area as well to engage him in activities such as reading buddies.

I am not suggesting that what worked for my son would necessarily work for this child in Iowa. Each child's situation should be looked at on its facts. But repeated resort to a time out room, and use of the time out for more than 3 hours, even after a child has wet herself and has struggled to comply is wrong. And it tells me that whatever plan exists for this autistic child's education is not working. The district and parents should probably re-examine that plan and consult with autism knowledgeable professionals about a possible re-design.

The superintendent, unfortunately, seems more interested in proving that the district is right, and in maintaining the district's legal stance for their appeal, then in learning from this bad experience.

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