Tuesday, June 22, 2010

New Brunswick Autistic Students Need Flexible, Alternative Learning Options

I am shocked and disappointed to read the CBC report that a Moncton, New Brunswick grandmother, who is also a government social worker and exectuive director of the Greater Moncton Family Resource Center has pulled her grandson, who has Aspergers, out of school to home school him  after finding that he had been sent repeatedly to an isolation room.  After visiting the isolation room herself, the grandmother  described what she saw:

"So I had to take care of him one night and he was having nightmare … I thought something was wrong," LaBelle said. "That night he threw up and he was very anxious the next morning."   ...

LaBelle said she went to the school with Jean-Michel and she saw the room, which she described as "the little jail." There are three walls bolted to the floor and a door, which is held shut when her grandson is inside.  There is also a small window so his teacher's assistant can make sure he doesn't hurt himself."

The article only mentions two options for the student at the Moncton school ... the regular classroom or the jail like isolation room.  It is not clear from the article whether other options were considered and discussed with the boy's parents or grandmother. As the article points out the New Brunswick Department of Education has long had a policy of regular classroom education for all students::

"For years, the Department of Education has had a policy of classroom integration, which means students of all abilities are placed in the same classroom."

I have long been a critic of New Brunswick's inclusive education policies as  an autism representative at Inclusive Education forums.  The absolute, everyone in the classroom approach does not work for all students with autism spectrum disabilities. Alternative, flexible arrangements are necessary which recognize the need for some students with autism to receive instruction from autism trained aides in quieter settings.  Common areas of the schools can be used to ensure socialization takes place.  To insist on an everybody in the mainstream classroom all the time fails to accommodate the needs of some with special learning challenges and behavioral challenges.  When the only alternatives are the regular classroom and jail like isolation rooms some children with autism disorders will suffer.

As a father of a severely autistic boy with intellectual disabilities I, with my wife, asked for my son to be removed from the mainstream classroom early in his grade school years. He was coming home with bite marks on his hands and wrists after spending the day in a classroom with students who were learning different material then him. They were learning at a much higher level and using different instruction methods.  Just the number of people in the classroom can be overwhelming for Conor.  

Conor has been educated since then in separate, quieter areas at school ... not in jail  cell like rooms.  He has received instruction from teacher assistants trained at the UNB-CEL Autism Training program and he engages in activities in common areas of the middle school he now attends. In the swimming pool, the gym, the kitchen and the library he encounters other students and staff.  I take him to and from school every day.  Other students regularly approach him and say hello with big smiles on their faces.  Staff are very friendly with him.

It is disheartening to see that schools in Moncton are offering autistic students a choice between the regular classroom and jail cell like isolation rooms.  Autistic students and their families should be offered alternative learning arrangements like those provided to my son and other students in the Fredericton area where they can learn in separate, decent areas with properly trained instructors and visit common areas of the school for specific activities including the mainstream classroom for specified periods if that is within their capabilities.

Whatever the full set of facts it seems clear from the article that no effort is being made to accommodate the student's need for accommodation of his disability.  School officials are simply reacting to specific situations instead of trying to figure out alternatives that will help the student have a positive learning experience. 
Students with autism disorders in Moncton deserve learning options like those  provided to my son here in Fredericton.


Claire said...

Amen...and you can interchange "children with autism" with "children with severe disabilities".

Carl said...

not all schools here are that stupidly designed

our son goes to a district 2 school in moncton and while he does spend significant time in the classroom he also has a fair amount of one on one time with his TA

the situation in the district 1 schools is abhorent and while i do support inclusion in the school system i also recognize that there needs to be some one on one work as well as realizing that some students do need to work in a method that is not always conducive to inclusive classroom behaviour

my preferred system is inclusive when it is beneficial to the student such that for example library, music, art and some subjects where the student is capable of handling the normal class schedule that they be included while still allowing them to be dealt with on a one on one basis when necessary.

basically having them included in a homeroom and such activities as they are capable of while allowing them the specialized teaching when required

farmwifetwo said...

If I wasn't interested in trying to have my youngest educated "normally" in the long term... we'd remain "integrated". Yes, he'd still learn his 3R's based at his level. He's use to doing work separately - yet in the room at his desk - from his peers with his EA. The regular classroom setting doesn't bother him and his classmates have been wonderful... But from here on in he'd be taught by the EA not the teacher.

Problem is he's btwn spec ed and regular in the 3R's, speech is coming but needs extra attention to make it easier for him - 1 word or paragraphs I'm not fussy - and he needs to learn to become more independant doing his seat work.

Any other classroom in our immediate area - I would have turned down. I, with our IPRC's, have that right. This one, this teacher, this school... we're going to try spec ed... 1 yr or all 3... Ask me next April... He will still have to be taught separately b/c he is ahead of them... he did "calendar" for them when he was there last week... oops :) He will be integrated for Music and Gym.

Spec ed, like integration works when the programs are individualized. Doesn't matter what program, what classroom, if the child does not come first... the outcome will always be negative.

Barry Hudson said...

Hi Harold,

In the US the House of Representatives passed, on March 5, 2010, the Safe in School Act essentially banning restraint and seclusion (yes there is some debate about the law but at least they have a law). The Government Accountability Office report on restraint and seclusion reads like a horror novel and the primary finding is that such events ordinarily occurred for ease of others rather than address the situation correctly (support, training, behaviour plans). Restraint and seclusion is the leading cause of death of disabled students in schools in the US. The overwhelming majority of students placed in these chambers were/are disabled. A “time-out” room is not a jail cell. Any room with three walls and a small window to observe is a solitary jail cell by any definition. The psychological horror of such for individuals with cognitive and intellectual disabilities is especially traumatic and such has been proven well by research to be entirely aversive.

It is beyond reprehension that such torture chambers are allowed to exist. Schools that use them say they are needed for safety and are not aversives. Search Youtube and see the videos.

Sadly, in this nation, my son, who has autism, has absolutely no human rights as confirmed by our courts. So, one could do this to my son (seclude him) and unless they actually kill him on purpose no one has any liability. Even if he dies the addition of the word “disabled” to his name (at least in Ontario) near reduces any jail/compensation at least in half.

I think that those that suggest and implement such places should be put in them for an extended period.


Stranded said...

I am afraid to send my little boy to school in the Toronto area.

Even if you are not being secluded or restrained and by your amazing luck end up with a good EA (i.e one who gives a damn about you as a person and your unique issues and not just about getting you to do stuff) - there is still the question of consitent behavior management.

I am just afraid of these things and keeping him home this year and just in a small preschool twice a week.

We will reassess next year.