On Twitter, I saw a tiny news clipping about an autistic child pulled out of a New Brunswick school. I didn’t pay much attention even though I was curious why a child being pulled out of school would make the news. Now, Harold L. Doherty of Facing Autism in New Brunswick comments on the story. As I already feared, the child, Jean-Michel, was removed from school because of having been secluded there.
As I have said a million times by now already, seclusion should not be used unless a child poses an immediate, physical threat to themself or someone else and absolutely no alternative can be used. It is not mentioned whether Jean-Michel posed such a threat, but it is likely that he didn’t. Meltdowns can be disturbing, but they don’t need to involve physical aggressiveness. More likely, Jean-Michel was thought to be distressing to the class with his fits.
Jean-Michel himself makes an important point, when he says that you don’t go to an isolation room, you go to the office. Had he not been autistic, that is where he would’ve been sent for disturbing the class, and rightfully so. Why is it that different punishments are used when a disabled child is concerned?
Besides, even if this behavior was so disturbed that a regular office detention would not be an option, have alternative solutions been explored. We do not know this. All we know is that the parents agreed to the seclusion. It is quite possible that no proper educational and behavioral plan was in place, individualized to meet Jean-Michel’s needs.
Harold Doherty goes on to discuss the possibility that some children with disabilities should not be in integrated classrooms. I have mixed thoughts here. On the one hand, special edcuation is not inherently and principly wrong, provided children are given a quality education in line with their needs. Special education as a dustbin for undesirable children, however, is not acceptable. Neither is the currently inevitable connection between special ed and poor academics. This child has Asperger’s Syndrome, which most likely means his academic skills are at or near grade level. If he were pushed into special ed as an alternative for the isolation room or the presumably unsuitable regular classroom, it should’ve been made sure that he got a quality education there.
I don’t have a particular preference of where children with disabilities are educated. Both inclusive and segregated classrooms – provided children are given the opportunity to interact with non-disabled peers – have their advantages. However, it is key that children with disabilities are at all times provided with a quality education in a safe, non-abusive environment.
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