Last Thursday I was visiting my SPED elementary placement and I saw something that truly disturbed me. A, normally, very sweet 7 year old had a complete and total melt down. I am not unfamiliar with young children meltdowns, I have 8 nieces and nephews and have seen my fair share of meltdowns. And even by major, nuclear, meltdown standards...what I was observing was not anywhere near that level.
Sunday, April 3, 2011
When I first walked into the room I noticed this little boy, let's call him Alex, was standing in a corner apart from the rest of the group. I could tell by the glares and muttering that he was having a difficult morning. He would occasionally kick the wall or stomp a bit more loudly but he wasn't screaming, yelling, throwing objects, a danger or a distraction to any of the other 5 kids in the classroom. After about ten minutes, the teacher took him to the Time Out Room. It's roughly the size of a large porta-potty (maybe a bit bigger). It has grey padded walls, a light in the ceiling and a door with a glass window. The latch is large and made of steel but had to be held in place.
Once Alex was forced into the Time Out Room and the door shut behind him (with the light still on) he immediately lost it. He started screaming to be let out and throwing himself against the door. I was asked to hold the door closed while the teacher went back to the rest of the class. After Alex had been in there for a few minutes he started screaming obscenities that no 7 year old should know. He also threatened to kill the everyone when he got out. At this point he was throwing himself against the door with so much force that it was bumping me off the door each time he hit it. Eventually he calmed down and was let out but the rest of the morning was a complete wash for him. He wasn't in a place mentally or emotionally to learn and he lost all of his privileges for the day so he only felt worse. I'm not saying there shouldn't have been consequences for his actions but it seemed his actions didn't escalate until he was put into the Time Out Room.
This incident disturbed me on several levels:
1- As this child was screaming, yelling, and throwing himself at the walls, none of the other adults even blinked an eye. It didn't phase them. Somehow I don't think anyone should get used to a 7 year old saying "You F****in A****le!"
2- The punishment seemed disproportionate to the infraction. He didn't have a serious behavior problem until after he was put in the time out room.
3- Since when did we start putting young children in what amounts to no more than a padded cell as a means of disciplining them? What does that accomplish? Many of these kids come with a steamer trunk full of baggage and often there is a chemical component. However, I do think that some of this behavior is still learned. What are we telling them when we put them in seclusion like that? What are we telling other students?
4- There is something, deep down, about the idea of Time Out Rooms and restraints and other 'disciplinary' measures that seem wrong on basis of basic human rights.
I was so disturbed by it that I went and talked with my professor about it. In talking with her, the issue became even more appalling. What I saw it starting to become standard practice in many public school special education programs and many parents have no idea. I've been researching the issue more as part of a paper for class and what I've found is deeply disturbing.
Did you know that many states in the south, including Texas, parents have to sign a form saying teachers and administrators cannot use corporal punishment on their child?? It was a pretty big wake up call. What I saw in the classroom wasn't outright abuse but it made me intensely uncomfortable and if I were that child's parent, I would be very upset. But what goes on in public schools every day, without parent's knowledge is a frightening prospect. Google "Special Education Time Out Rooms" or "Special Education Seclusion and restraints" and you'll see what I mean.