July 10, 2009

Special Needs Students – Where's the Compassion?

Posted: 03:43 PM ET

Recently, I met a 16-year-old boy named Christopher. He is autistic, and his parents told me he has the mental capacity of a three to five-year-old child. I happen to have three nephews all under the age of five. Leo is four, and the twins are three. In some ways, Leo seems to have more verbal and social skills than Christopher. But still, like many four-year-olds, when he gets frustrated, he throws a temper tantrum. He flails his arms, he raises his voice, he even falls to the ground sometimes. We’ve all seen it, and we all know that is what four-year-olds do sometimes. When that happens, his parents don’t pounce on top of him, and hold him face down on the ground. They do not physically restrain him.


When Christopher gets frustrated, and cannot express himself by using his limited vocabulary, he acts very much like Leo. He might fall to the ground, and throw his arms up in the air, or even shout. His parents told me that when he acts like this at home, they give him his space, and then they console him. They never said it was easy, but insist they do not physically get on top of him to hold him down. But when Christopher acted like this at school, his teachers wrestled him to the ground. They pinned him down. I saw the video. It looked painful. He looked confused.

Christopher is special. He is a young child, trapped in a tall, strong 16-year-old’s body. This case is not unusual. There are six million special needs students in the U.S. But for some reason, there are no federal standards or guidelines about how teachers should handle special needs students when they act out in the classroom.

My question to you is not whether physical restraint should be used in the classroom. At this point – most people already know the argument.

I can only imagine how challenging it is for teachers these days – I think most people recognize that, but this is my question: Where is the basic compassion and empathy for students who need extra help?

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau • Special Investigations Unit

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