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(UK) Multiple accounts of disabled (autistic) students brutalized in school

July 6, 2019, Guardian: ‘He was covered in bruises’: the vulnerable children being harmed in special schools Beth and Peter Morrison were thrilled when their son got into a school that catered for his disabilities. Then they learned he was being restrained, bound and injured. Beth and Peter Morrison remember every detail about the day their son Calum returned, broken, from Kingspark school. It was Friday 24 September 2010. The school bus dropped him home at 3.25pm. His face was ashen, his lips blue. He was wearing different clothes from those he had left in that morning – a thin T-shirt, shorts and plimsolls, no underwear and no coat. His own clothes were soaked in urine and stuffed in a plastic bag. “I asked him what was wrong. He said: ‘I dizzy, Mummy, teacher hurt,’” Beth says. Although Calum was 11 at the time, he still spoke like a toddler. Beth called the school immediately to find out what had happened. Beth says she was kept holding for more than 15 minutes before being told staff were in a meeting. That evening, Calum was clingy and tearful. “As I was tucking him in for the night, he said: ‘No school, Mummy, school bad.’” The next morning, when Beth was taking off his pyjamas, she noticed the bruises on his upper arms. She asked Calum about them. “Teacher hurt arm. Wet on the floor,” he said. She looked in the home-school diary – a logbook used by the school and Calum’s parents to relay noteworthy incidents – for clues as to what had happened. Nothing was recorded. We are sitting in the kitchen of the Morrisons’ bungalow in a small coastal town near Dundee. Their home, which has been adapted to Calum’s needs, has a warm, welcoming feel. Calum, now 20, wanders in and out. He is lovable, chatty and childlike. His language still resembles that of a four-year-old. In Calum’s early years, his parents thought he was simply a gifted child. He taught himself to read at three and on his first day at primary school he wrote the word “conscientiousness” on the teacher’s desk. At seven, he had a reading age of 14. Yet he was still non-verbal. He was sent to a specialist, who diagnosed hyperlexia – a syndrome characterised by a child’s precocious ability to read, accompanied by profound difficulties in understanding and talking. He was also diagnosed with epilepsy, cerebral palsy and autism. It had all started so promisingly at Kingspark, a special educational needs school in Dundee. … …Then they were told that Calum was being placed in the school’s enhanced support area (ESA). “I thought it was a promotion, and we were pleased Calum was doing so well,” says Beth. It was on his first day there that he returned home badly bruised. “He did have regular seizures, so we thought perhaps he had injured himself and staff had held his arms tightly to prevent further harm,” … From 9am, Beth phoned the school repeatedly to find out what had happened, but she says nobody would talk to her. In the afternoon, she says, a member of staff rang back. Beth asked if the bruises and urine-soaked clothes were the result of a seizure. She says she was told they were the result of Calum having had an outburst. “She said he had been restrained for ‘behaviour’ and then ‘urinated out of protest’. She said they had sat him in a chair with an egg timer in front of him, so he could see he was being punished. We later found out from staff statements that Calum had been strapped into a chair.” … Nine years on, Calum’s parents are still shocked. “Urinating in protest?” Peter says. “Our son had not wet himself once since he was out of nappies. And he doesn’t have outbursts at home. …Beth asked what had happened on the Tuesday and says she was told that he had been restrained in the gym by four staff members, for “refusing to follow the same route as the other children” when riding a bike designed for children with disabilities. It later emerged from records of the incident that two members of staff were across his legs, one was over the top of his body while another held his chin off the floor. After being pinned down, he had wet himself. He was then stripped of his clothes and again put in the chair with the egg timer. Although Calum was 11, he weighed four stone (25kg) and was the size of an average seven-year-old. “If Calum’s injuries had occurred at home, our boy would have been removed from us,” Peter says. “But we were told that he had to return to the place that had hurt him. And we were repeatedly warned by Dundee council that it was a criminal offence to refuse to send him to school.” What is defined as “reasonable force” can be used in British schools to prevent a pupil from committing an offence, causing injury or damage or disrupting good order. Beth says that restraining children such as Calum for breaking rules is nonsense, because they have no concept of what the rules are. … The Morrisons said they would send him back to school only with a guarantee that he would not be restrained. Three weeks after his first restraint, Calum returned. There were no more bruises or soiled clothing, but he was terrified of the school. Eventually, it was agreed he would attend only for half days, which he did for the next two and a half years. Beth says the final straw came on Wednesday 15 May 2013. Calum was attending Kingspark only in the afternoons, driven there by Beth or Peter. That day, Beth and Calum arrived at 1.20pm. They waited in reception until a teacher arrived to take him. “I saw a small boy, about eight or nine years old, being led along a corridor, with two members of staff holding his upper arms tightly,” Beth says. “The boy started flapping his hands, like lots of autistic children do. He didn’t seem to be in danger of hurting himself or the others, but then staff appeared to slam his body into the wall and restrain him with a force that horrified me.” Beth reported what she had seen to the police, who investigated and brought no charges. … His parents sent him to Carnoustie high, a mainstream school, where he spent four happy years. “Peter and I watched proudly as he went to his senior school prom and had a fantastic time,” Beth says. “The staff loved him and he was very well cared for.” … In 2017, Beth set up the charity Positive & Active Behaviour Support Scotland(PABSS), which has collated 712 stories from families of children with additional needs who have been injured while being restrained. She says that “not a single one of these children is neurotypical”.
Earlier this year, PABSS and the Challenging Behaviour Foundation, a UK-wide charity for people with severe learning disabilities, produced a report showing that, of the 566 families of children with learning disabilities and challenging behaviour surveyed, 88% said their child had experienced restraint, with 35% saying they had experienced it regularly. Most of these restraints occurred in school settings. Fifty-eight per cent of families questioned said their children had suffered injuries after being restrained, including “unexplained bruises, what looked like carpet burns to knees and ankles, unexplained broken wrist”. The report examined all restrictive interventions with disabled children, including mechanical restraint (such as being strapped into a chair), chemical restraint (medication) and seclusion (being isolated in a room that the child is prevented from leaving), concluding that all were overused. Sixty per cent of those surveyed believed that restrictive interventions were used by schools as their main method of tackling challenging behaviour, rather than as a last resort to prevent injury. Only 17% of the families surveyed said that a restrictive intervention had been recorded…. It was a fellow pupil who drew attention, in 2017, to the treatment of Michelle. The pupil – who, like Michelle, had special needs – scrawled a note that was passed on to Michelle’s parents. “Michelle has been locked in a room and has been banging on the door very loud all afternoon,” it said. Michelle’s parents, Jane and Andrew, knew she had behaviour issues, but they had no idea that their 15-year-old daughter was regularly locked in a tiny, bare room. (The school has since admitted doing so.) … Jane had a traumatic pregnancy. When she was 24 weeks pregnant, her brother died suddenly. She later discovered that, in the same week, Michelle suffered a stroke in the womb. Michelle was partly paralysed down the right side of her body. She was later diagnosed with autism and has traits of pathological demand avoidance (PDA), meaning that she resists everyday demands and expectations because they cause her huge anxiety. Shortly before her fourth birthday, Michelle started at a local nursery, three mornings a week. When she was asked to do something she didn’t want to do, or couldn’t do, she would lie on the floor shouting. At the age of six, she started primary school and began to exhibit aggressive behaviour – swearing, spitting and lashing out at staff. … Last December, the Scottish children’s commissioner, Bruce Adamson, published No Safe Place: Restraint And Seclusion In Scotland’s Schools. His investigation concluded that all such incidents should be recorded and that parents or carers should be told “as soon as reasonably practicable”. It also recommended that the Scottish government should publish a “rights-based national policy and guidance” on restraint and seclusion in schools. The Scottish government is still considering its full response. Meanwhile, in England and Wales, a review commissioned in 2011 by Michael Gove, then the education secretary, reached a very different conclusion. Gove asked Charlie Taylor, then the government’s adviser on behaviour in schools, to review the recording and reporting of the use of force in schools. Taylor’s report distinguished between mainstream schools, where the use of significant force is “extremely rare”, and special schools, where “some pupils, either due to a special need or because they have severe behaviour difficulties, can require more regular physical intervention”. He also stated that “special schools may have a different threshold for what is ‘significant’ force and they use their judgment to decide which incidents should be reported to parents”. Taylor reported that obliging schools to record significant incidents of force could have a “negative effect” on the relationship between staff in special schools and parents. He said it would “add to the bureaucratic burden for some, but not all, schools”. Taylor’s review did not cause an outcry at the time – perhaps because so few people knew about it. But campaigners today are appalled by its tone and its findings. They point out that it is impossible to know how widespread the restraint and seclusion of children is in schools, precisely because it has never been obligatory for schools to record and report it…. Make no mistake, Karen says: her son Adam is hard work. Adam is 14 and has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. He is potty-mouthed and has meltdowns galore, but she has never felt threatened by him. “He’ll hurl abuse at you or throw something, but he’d never actually attack anybody.” This made it all the more shocking when she discovered how many times Adam had been restrained soon after starting secondary school. …


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