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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Restraint in New Mexico

The Albuquerque Journal reports:

When an Albuquerque Public Schools police officer used handcuffs to restrain a 7-year-old boy with autism, Superintendent Winston Brooks condemned her actions and Bernalillo County Sheriff Dan Houston revoked her law enforcement commission.

Brooks made it clear to APS staff that “absolutely under no circumstances” would it be OK to handcuff an elementary school student.


APS policies also emphasize prevention, and both state and district policies say restraint should be used as a last resort – when students are in danger of hurting themselves or others.

Only people certified in de-escalation techniques can physically restrain a student, under state policy. When a child does need to be restrained, proper techniques may involve as many as two adults immobilizing the child’s arms, legs and head. Staff members are taught never to sit on a child or to hold him or her face down on the ground.

Liz Thomson, who is past president of the New Mexico Autism Society and whose son has autism, said the training is a good start, but parents would like to see training specific to autism. While students with autism are not the only ones who act out, she said they have particular needs that can be counterintuitive.

“Many of the things teachers do that they think are good will exacerbate the situation,” Thomson said. “Holding (students) still or touching them can escalate rather than calm them down.”

While children with autism may be in classes with other special education students, they are often integrated into regular classrooms, depending on how well they function.

Thomson said teachers without specific knowledge of autism might try to reason with an autistic child, when verbal stimulation will actually just amp the child up further. She said often – but not always – the best solution is to back away and reduce stimuli until a student calms down.

“It has to be looked at through the autism lens,” Thomson said. “What might be comforting to a neurotypical child might be painful to a child with autism.”