Wednesday, June 4, 2014

So I Spoke About Restraint and Seclusion to my School District

I stood up and shook, stimmed, and tried not to cry for five minutes--and spoke. I spoke for my former self. I spoke for the person who felt he had no voice, and I am both shocked and overwhelmed, but also really freaking happy. I posted these two things to my facebook page after: 
"Welp, just shaked, stimmed, and cried my way through testifying on restraint and seclusion. #NothingAboutUsWithoutUs"

and 

"Probably the most overwhelming (in a good way) part of the meeting was all the parents of Autistic/'special needs' children walking up to me and thanking me while, it looked like, feigning trying not to cry. The most impactful was this random stranger shaking my hand telling me 'I gave a voice to [her] son.' 
My comments included not being able to stand idly by while children like me, but younger, were restrained and secluded. I nearly cried just hearing that. 

צדק,צדק תרדוף. [this means "justice, justice you shall pursue" in Hebrew.] 

Now onto what I actually said.
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C/W: ableism, restraint, seclusion, unsanitary? 

Sammamish High School Disabled Abled Coalition’s (spoken) Statement on Proposed Changes to the Bellevue School District’s Policy on Restraint and Seclusion:

Hello, my name is Eric Warwick and I am the president of the Sammamish High School Disabled Abled Coalition. Today I am going to speak on the proposed changes to school district policy as a representative of my club and as a Disabled person who has been restrained and secluded himself for many years.

In 2005, I was diagnosed with what was then called Asperger’s Syndrome and what is today called Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. Before then I was given the diagnoses of Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and I believe this is the right term, Behavioral Disruptive Disorder Not Otherwise Specified—which is similar to Oppositional Defiance Disorder. On my IEP prior to this diagnoses I was labeled as having a Behavioral and Emotional Disability.

The reason for this? Well, it’s a bit complicated. As stated, I am Autistic, and the spaces that are created for us Autistics are, by and large, visually, audibly, and in other ways sensory-inaccessible.
When spaces for Autistic children are inaccessible, it is similar to making a place inaccessible for a wheel-chair user—we cannot use the space. Unlike wheel-chair users, however, we are able to physically be in a space. Because of this, we may—and do—experience a reaction called an Autistic meltdown. Yesterday, I got close to doing that publicly at the vote for a $15/hour minimum wage in Seattle. Socialists are kind of loud, apparently. Autistic meltdowns includes the loss or temporary impairment of verbal language for verbal Autistics, the increase of an uncontrollable behavior that regulates emotion called stimming—what I’m doing right now—an increase in stress and anxiety, crying, and other behaviors similar to what most people associate with panic attacks. In addition, some Autistic people may want whatever it is that is harming their ability to focus, learn, and use a space without crying to STOP.

We can’t talk to anyone about helping us, because, well, we can’t speak like we usually could. For non- or limited-verbal Autistics, this standard is also applied for some reason. As such, I, along with many other Autistics, would hit our teachers or others out of desperation. For myself, the worst I did was throw an eraser when I was seven. And, of course, we are apprehended. We are restrained; we are moved; and we are serially suspended for long periods of time. Now, let us examine this situation. The actors present are of course the Autistic child, the teacher, the students, but also the architect and the society. For the architect’s part, the florescent lights and other features caused me distress and for the society’s it was the expectation of normative behavior—so no stimming—and the excessively loud and bright classroom. The district allows for “de-escalation techniques” which cannot work if I am literally unable to control my emotions as a severely overwhelmed, scared, and desperate Autistic six year old as I was in kindergarten. The association I have made between “acting Autistic” or any sort of overwhelm is such that I become anxious that someone in some way will hurt me. The association wasn’t—well maybe that specific mode of communication is unhelpful: it was such that my own way of expressing emotion was wrong. That is not creating an inclusive environment for all students.

Now, all I have so far addressed is general education and the reason why a student might be placed in a behavioral special education class—nor seclusion. Let me address this. A selection from the new changes:
“Physical force is reasonable when needed to prevent or minimize imminent bodily injury or substantial or great bodily harm to self or others. If de-escalation interventions have failed or are inappropriate, reasonable physical force may be used to protect district property.  
Use of mechanical restraint or chemical spray is reasonable only under the following conditions and only when used by authorized and trained district staff after de-escalation interventions have failed or are inappropriate:A. If the student’s behavior poses a threat of imminent bodily injury or substantial or great harm to self or others; orB. To prevent significant property damage.”

Although this helps—and it does—it does not solve the issue of abuses in meaningful way. It instead, creates legal space, as it did for when I was a small child, to have restraint and seclusion used on me in inappropriate and frankly damaging ways. Here’s the thing, I was never subject to mechanical nor chemical restraints from what I remember. This is because my behaviors never necessitated actions by an on-duty police officer, although during 7th grade it was once threatened for throwing a pen cap at teacher. I was only ever wrestled to the floor by a paraeducator or special education teacher. In addition, de-escalation tactics were ineffective because they were applied poorly or inherently ineffective. 

This has had an incredibly deep impact on my mental health. I currently face re-occurring depression, constant anxiety, and an inherent mistrust of teachers or any authority figure related to education. I experience panic attacks when I think about these things. The most recent one happened Memorial Day weekend. I stayed up most of the night thinking about it. I spent most of my night thinking about how Autistic behaviors that hurt no one but are considered unsightly were labeled non-compliance and how through this marginalization have an Autistic meltdown which meant I could be tackled down to a carpet floor, have teachers yell at me and at other students to get away, put in what is euphemistically called a “cascade hold,” have my shoes taken off—a sensory trigger—and then be dragged to a room locked with an electro magnet that had soda and urine stains.

As I typed this in the LGBTQ Resource Center at Bellevue College I was crying. These amendments to district policy would NOT affect these situations. They do not address the systemic issues that Autistic students face and they would not have helped me. We need change. I cannot in good conscious stand idly by while other children are being forced into the position I was. I cannot. I am still researching policy and let me tell you—this is a good start. But we are not addressing the real issues and the abusive practices of restraint and seclusion will still continue with this change. I look forward to more change and I hope the district will listen to the voices of Disabled students by visiting Disabled Abled Coalition when we meet again next year. If you have any more questions, I have provided you with resources and a brief statement—and I will also stick around to hear others. Thank you for your time and have a great evening.

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Note: in my written testimony--which I will post tomorrow for various technology reasons--I DO mention that Disabled Students of Color are even more hurt by this system and that intersection must be discussed. 

5 comments:

  1. I look forward to reading your comments on Disabled Students of Color tomorrow.

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    Replies
    1. All it said was that Disabled Students of Color are even more marginalized and that accurate numbers are hard to get because no one bothers studying Disabled Students of Color/specifically Disabled Students of Color ~FOR SOME REASON~ but the Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education study shows some of the picture.
      I wrote about it more here: http://autisticshs.blogspot.com/2014/03/a-routine-school-disciplinary.html .
      I have yet to go to Bellevue College to get the file that has the entire statement.

      Delete
  2. I would like to write more to you at some point, Eric. For now, please accept my gratitude for your courage, intelligence and your great big heart. As a parent and I know I speak for many, many other parents, thank you for articulating so beautifully exactly what needed to be said. I know this was hard for you, so please take very good care of yourself. I think you are one very awesome young man!

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  3. Definitely amazingly poignant! !! Very proud of you and especially the group name!! Rock on and best of luck

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  4. Eric, Your mom shared your blog with me. I deeply respect and celebrate your passionate compassion for yourself and all others. Rock on, indeed! Ann

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