Yet another alarming newspaper article on the use of seclusion in our education system; the frequency of these reports is clearly increasing. Although incredibly distressing to read, they serve as imperative evidence of the lack of education and support that pertains to behaviour support, disability and restrictive practice:
This topic is further at the forefront of my mind when recently learning that an 8 year old client of mine was being ‘supported’ at school by locking him in a small, bare, dark room (with not even a pillow in the room). On top of this, the school is stipulated as a ‘behavioural school’. I was not-so-quietly appalled, to say the least.
Last year, we published a blog article of restraint and restrictive practice - http://autismswim.com.au/2016/08/09/restraint-become-abuse/. In this blog article, we want to focus on the use of ‘chill out zones’, Time-Out, seclusion, and/or physical containment for the primary use of behaviour support; particularly in the education system.
Individuals with ASD can become over-stimulated and may need reprieve from the sensory stimuli that is causing their distress; this is not new information. Teaching these individuals to self-regulate is a vital skill-development goal, and often the use of a chill-out zone is recommended; whereby they have a safe haven from noise, other people, visual and auditory stimuli; a place where they can temporarily escape the world, as we all want/need to at times.
There does however, have to be transparent guidelines on when these strategies are used and how they are applied. The NSW Department of Education’s guidelines on this are very easy to obtain. The full guidelines can be found in this link however I have also noted a few key summary points below - https://education.nsw.gov.au/policy-library/associated-documents/timeout_gui.pdf
- Time-out strategies are not to be used as punishment.
- Procedures for the use of time-out strategies should be communicated to all students, parents, carers and school staff and must include information for parents and carers about the process to be used when parents or carers may have concerns or complaints about the use of a time-out strategy.
- Training should be provided to school staff in the appropriate implementation of time-out procedures.
- The principal must ensure that parents or carers are notified on each occasion the dedicated time-out room is used with their child.
A dedicated time-out room must:
- Be risk assessed in relation to student and staff safety, and be consistent with the Department’s Work Health and Safety Policy and associated documents.
- Allow for meaningful educational activity to be provided for students– have adequate ventilation, lighting and heat.
- Have adequate space for students and staff.
- Allow arrangements for the student to have recess, lunch and toilet breaks when appropriate if time-out occurs across these periods.
- Not be locked, latched or secured in any way that would, in case of an emergency, prevent staff or the student from exiting the room.
- Be supervised at all times.
- Display rules for behaviour within the room – display school rules and expectations – display visual supports for de-escalation strategies.
- The principal must ensure that a record of the use of the dedicated time-out room with each individual student and for each occasion is maintained.
Pauline Hanson, a huge thank you for bringing the debate of mainstream vs. specialised schooling to the headlines. Your commentary is obviously misguided, uneducated and incredibly devoid of any clinical basis; however, yet again, this is nothing new. I traditionally steer clear of any political discussion, yet here we have an amazing opportunity to use this as a platform of reform and education.
I recently met a teacher of a class of 17 students, 5 of whom have additional needs, and she receives zero support in terms of a Learning Support Assistant (LSA). When things get heated in the classroom with one student and she has 16 others to tend to on her own, what do we suggest she does? Students’ NDIS funds are not theoretically to be used in the schooling domain as this technically is the Department of Education’s responsibility. Therefore, parents are left with no choice but to rely on the Department for the training, support and ethical decisions which are made in the classroom, pertaining to the behavioural challenges that their son/daughter may possess.
It is our job to maximise the potential of our children, in whatever environment they are most likely to thrive. Which environment this is, is not a decision to be made by a Senator who has never worked or lived a day in the inspiring and wonderful world that is Disability. Let’s leave this to our well-informed team of parents and clinicians.
Simply put, what is needed?
*Teachers need support; through specific training on behaviour support and through LSA’S in their classrooms.
*As a collective, we need more understanding on behaviours of concern for individuals, particularly those with a disability. Behaviours are a communication tool; this is the most elementary of behaviour support principles. If you’d like us to explain to you in more depth the different functions that behaviour serves, please let us know.
*We should allow Pauline Hanson to continue to make erroneous statements as this only highlights massive education gaps that exist within our society.
*If you are a teacher, we’d love to hear from you. Do you know all of the state guidelines that pertain to time-out? Do you receive enough support and training in terms of behaviour support and disability?
*Parents, would you be happy to use some of your NDIS funds within the education sector?
Erika Gleeson - Senior Behaviour Specialist and Clinical Director of Autism Swim
GC Autism, BA Behavioural Science