Special Needs Children: A Parent’s View on Restraining a Child

There has recently been a news story reported in several places regarding a six-year-old student being handcuffed in a Georgia school.  I have read several comments by numerous people about their views as well as the mother’s concerns as reported in the article.

First of all, I want to say that I do not know this child or the extent of his special needs or diagnosis.  I don’t even know what actually happened at the school to require the use of handcuffs on this child, other than what has been reported.  My views come from my own experiences as a parent of my own special needs child.

To provide a little context for where I am coming from, I will describe my daughter’s condition for those reading who have never met Savannah.  Savannah was born with CHARGE syndrome.  There are a lot of patients with CHARGE who grow up to be very highly functioning members of society.  Savannah, during one of her lengthy stays in the hospital suffered a brain injury, that removed her ability to speak.  We also believe that this brain injury has caused some additional behavioral issues but we have never been given a formal diagnosis to link the two together.  Over eight years, Savannah has had her ups and downs, but she does regularly throw us curve balls, even though she has shown great progress along the way.

I also want to say up front that I am not a proponent of restraints in general terms.  I also want to say to this family that my heart goes out to you as you try to work through this situation.  I hope you can satisfactorily get your questions answered and find some peace in the situation that your child was hurt no more than some bruises on his wrists and that nobody else at the school was hurt due to an outburst.

That being said it has become increasingly irritating to me at the sensationalism that the media puts out on this situation.  There have been times that my patience has been tried in dealing with Savannah.  I saw one comment ask, “How hard is to restrain a six-year-old without handcuffs?”  My question is have you ever tried to restrain a child with special needs who may or may not be able to understand what is going on?  If you can’t reason with a child who is becoming violent and may hurt himself or herself, sometimes you have to take extraordinary measures, especially if you are not equipped otherwise to do so.

My child is in a school that is specialized for her needs and we count it a blessing that this school is available for her.  I also know that there are other situations where students have progressed to a point where they are (reasonably) able to handle being mainstreamed.  This is not always comfortable for the child with special needs child just as much as it might not be comfortable for the other students around.  Both sides, however, must learn to adapt to their new settings.

Savannah reaches out for her sisters in an attempt to play with them.  They fear she is trying to rip them apart…AND THEY LIVE WITH HER!  They both have to learn to temper themselves; Savannah her forcefulness and her sisters, their fear.  If Savannah were to be mainstreamed, it would be a huge step for her and would mark a milestone in her progress towards her own independence.  However, knowing that she does have outbursts, if we were called to school because of one and she were restrained, I would not immediately be angered at the staff.  I would certainly have questions to put my mind at ease about the situation.

When you send your child to school, you must have some trust that when the school makes a decision, that they are trying to make the best judgement for everyone’s safety.  I want them to keep my child safe as well as keep other children safe at the same time.  Yes, there are some bad apples and bad things do happen when everyone means well.  We are very blessed to have Savannah in a school where we know the staff love and care for her as if she were their own child.  If they told us she had to be restrained, I would be thankful that they were able to keep her safe from hurting herself or anyone else.

My issue is not with the family who is outraged.  They know the situation and the people who are caring for their son.  My issue is not with the school system in Georgia because they truly know if their decision was justified for the situation.  My issue is with the people who have no idea about caring for a special needs child, no idea what happened in this situation at that particular moment, or if the school was using necessary force to contain a situation that conceivably could have been much worse than it was and throw around phrases like, “If that were my child, I would…,” or “I would go down there and do such and such…”  The fact of the matter is you don’t know what really happened.

People seem to just fly off the handle about a situation they are not involved in because they think they know.  Before you start throwing stones at someone from your glass house, you might want to look out that glass to get a better view of what happened…or better yet, come out of your glass house and closer to the situation to understand it.