Autism group supports federal legislation

Today the National Autism Association announced its support of H.R. 4247, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act, introduced Wednesday by Congressman George Miller (D-CA) and Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA). The federal bill is a much-anticipated solution to the issues of unregulated restraint and seclusion in schools.In June, the National Autism Association (NAA) launched a campaign to spur letter writing and raise awareness about dangerous restraint and seclusion practices following a May 2009 Government Accountability Office (GAO) Report that revealed no federal laws regulating restraint and seclusion in schools, no laws in 19 states, and "widely divergent" laws in remaining states. The report investigated hundreds of cases, including deaths from "mechanical compression to the chest," or "smothering," one schoolchild died from restraint following a seizure, another died from hanging himself in a seclusion room. Other cases included a four-year-old girl who was tied to a chair and abused, five children who were duct-taped to their desks, and a ten-year-old boy who was put in a seclusion room "75 times over a 6-month period for hours at a time for offenses such as whistling, slouching and hand-waving." In a CNN OpEd Piece yesterday, representatives Miller and Rodgers wrote, "It's difficult to believe, but there are no federal laws to prevent this from happening. Local newspapers recount bone-chilling stories of schoolchildren tied to chairs, or with their mouths taped shut, sometimes locked in dark closets, or pinned to the floor for hours at a time. If parents treat their kids this way, it's considered a criminal offense." Research shows that aversive interventions, restraint, and seclusion carry no therapeutic value. "Our children essentially regress when they are abused. They lose progress and are traumatized," stated NAA President Wendy Fournier. "We need positive, effective interventions in place that prevent the need for restraint or seclusion. We need proper training for our school personnel, better support, more tools and immediate solutions to this system-wide failure that has caused so many of our children to either lose their lives or become victims of horrific abuse. We applaud Representatives Miller and Rodgers for introducing this critical legislation." If signed into law, the Preventing Harmful Restraint and Seclusion in Schools Act would: Prevent and reduce the use of physical restraint and seclusion in schools Protect students from physical or mental abuse Protect students from aversive behavioral interventions that compromise health and safety Prohibit any physical restraint or seclusion imposed solely for purposes of discipline or convenience Require parent notification within 24 hours Assist States, local educational agencies and schools in the areas of establishing policy; gaining tools, proper training & support; collecting and analyzing data; identifying and implementing effective evidence-based models to prevent and reduce physical restraint and seclusion in schools "Withholding food and water, lemon spray to the eyes, force feeding, sensory exploitation, shaving cream to the mouth, peppers to the mouth - these are just some of the methods that have been used on schoolchildren, many of whom have been diagnosed with autism," states NAA Executive Director Rita Shreffler. "This federal legislation marks the first step in ending abuse that should have never existed." In addition to the legislation, NAA feels surveillance cameras in special education classrooms are necessary. "Many of our children are nonverbal and cannot communicate acts of abuse. Surveillance cameras will protect both schoolchildren and staff," says Fournier. Prone (facedown) restraint should be banned completely, says NAA. And district, administrative, parent, and community support of special education staff is critical, as well as proper training. "Training 'don'ts' should be uniform among States to explicitly draw the line, but the 'do's' of restraint and seclusion need to start with prevention utilizing de-escalation techniques and then take into account an individual's size, medical history and medications - it's not one-size-fits-all," Fournier says. According to a January 2009 report by the Disability Rights Network, 41% of states have no laws, policies, or guidelines concerning restraint or seclusion use in schools, almost 90% still allow prone restraints, and only 45% require or recommend that schools automatically notify parents. "Because no federal laws are currently in place and most parents remain unaware of their child being restrained or secluded, parents should take steps now to protect their child," says Shreffler. NAA encourages parents to download a "no-consent" sample letter created by APRAIS to submit to their child's school. To download, visit www.nationalautismassociation.org/abuse.php. The nonprofit is taking steps to help reduce acts of abuse in schools and pledges its full support of federal legislation. For more information about NAA and autism, visit www.nationalautismassociation.org.

********** Published: December 11, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 33