A 6′ wide by 4′ deep space with a duvet cover stuffed with foam blocks on the floor, surrounded by concrete walls, dimly lit, and with a 2-to-3-foot gap amid a barrier of storage bins: Would you consider this a “safe” place? Would you consider this a place for a child—-a special needs child; an autistic child; an autistic child who is very upset; an autistic child who is very upset and is being physically restrained; an autistic child who is very upset, is being physically restrained, and is kicking/resisting/screaming/etc. even more and louder and fiercely than before someone attempted to restrain him?
Someone in the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, school district must think it is all right for a child to be placed in what is called a “safe zone” or “timeoutbox” and what could simply be referred to as a “padded cell.” Autism parent Kathi Magee went to a Parents Forum held by the Cherry Hill Special Education PTA last week and learned that there are such rooms in two schools in the district, and that they are being used. A parent mentioned the rooms; other parents had not known about these and were, to put it mildly, “horrified.” Magee provides details of the rooms in Cherry Hill’s Chokey! and asks “why” and “how” this could have happened:
First, the “why” questions:
Why were these closets turned into “quiet rooms” without telling parents in advance? Why was this procedure not explained to parents in an IEP meeting if there was even the slightest chance that it may be utilized? Why would a child be allowed to reach such a high level of distress? Why would a child prone to meltdowns not have a positive behavior plan in place? Why would we not have trained staff to spot the child whose frustration is escalating and intervene before a crisis?
Perhaps it did not occur to anyone that the best way to handle a crisis is to prevent it from happening in the first place!
Now on to the “how” questions:
How do you justify the use of aversives when you did not make a plan to avoid this? How is it that you go about “escorting” a child in a full blown rage out of a classroom? When they reach that level they are extremely combative. The mere act of trying to relocate them could bring injury to the child or even the staff attempting to physically move the child. How is it that parents were not made aware of these questionable techniques prior to their use? How are these “quiet rooms” actually used? Are non-compliant children placed in these padded cells (for lack of a better phrase!) or is it just for full blown rages? There seems to be some indication that they are used for more than “meltdowns.” How is this explained to the other children in the room. Surely they are fearful and perseverating on the fact that it “could” be them next!
After reading about the padded cells in Cherry Hill, all I can say is what in the……