As the mom of a child with Autism, I am fully aware of the fact that when they are ‘set off’ they can be a little unmanagable. As our son has gotten older, he is affected by odd things, which causes him to go into a screaming, raging tantrum that can last from 5 minutes or an hour. With that being said, we have have developed strategies that help calm him down during these fits that help cut that time back significantly. I am not a psychologist, nor have I ever been trained by a therapist or psychologist. I do what feels right and I let him know that I am here to help him when one of these moments hit.
For this reason I was shocked to learn of an unnamed school in Australia that had a 2m by 2m by 2m cage with a roof, self-closing door and latch, put together for a 10-year-old child that struggles with Autism.
“The structure was designed as a space for a student to calm down and when the student needed a quiet space,” the report explained. “There was one occasion where the student was put in the structure by staff to calm down.”
When she became aware of the structure, ACT Education Minister Joy Burch called the cage “disgusting” and said a government investigation had found the school’s principal was solely responsible for approving its construction.
The principal stepped down shortly after the revelations were made, and the cage was dismantled and removed from the school.
The next day, Ms Burch slammed the media for published the photos saying that they were heartbreaking for the boy’s family and emotionally damaging for other parties involved.
“I accept that the community rightly wanted answers as to how such a structure came to be,” she said in a statement “Publishing [these photos do] not assist in getting to the truth or add any more insight as to why it was constructed.”
You know what’s heartbreaking for the family? Learning that the ‘safe place’ that you send your child to every day isn’t safe. Knowing that you, as a parent, struggle everyday to give your child a normal life only to learn that a person, who is supposed to have their best interest at heart – goes and has a cage made to contain them.
The bigger issue here is not the the images were leaked, but that it even happened in the first place. Somehow a WHOLE school knew that this cage existed and no one thought to report it. AND that it was actually used for the child. This school board needs to take more responsibility for this situation and admit that their staff is clearly not trained to work with children with Special needs.
Often parents can be a great resource during this time because they can tell you what works for them. And I can assure you putting them in a cage isn’t one of them. Nor is it a threat that will prevent them from having another meltdown.
For me, I see the cage as the ultimate sign of disrespect for kids who were born with a disorder that even they can’t control. I hope that the Education Minister re-thinks the training that her staff has received concerning special needs children, and that she puts together a new program with trusted psychologists in the field to better accommodate these children in the future.