Sunday, May 17, 2009

AZ: Gilbert couple requests new restraint policy for autistic children

by Emily Gersema - May. 14, 2009 03:18 PM
The Arizona Republic

A Gilbert couple whose mildly autistic 7-year-old son was held down and sat on by school staff members twice in the past year is begging the administration and governing board to start notifying parents promptly when their children have been restrained.

His parents, Kim and Robert Eacott told the board Tuesday that Sonoma Ranch Elementary School officials were reluctant to talk about the incident last year, and they've been learning details of what happened to their son Anthony in snippets through conversations and e-mails over several months.

Officials initially denied any such incident had occurred, the Eacotts said.

Kim Eacott said she learned Anthony had had been restrained on other occasions when she reviewed his file.

Robert Eacott said that in one incident, a staff member sat on Anthony because his "letter board was too messy."

Autism is a spectrum disorder which ranges in severity, and affects 1 out of every 150 children, primarily boys. A broad set of characteristics are associated with the disorder; two of the most recognized are difficulty socializing and trouble with self expression.

Children with autism also tend to need a strict routine and can become extraordinarily upset.

Parents and teachers with specialized training learn how to de-escalate the situation and re-focus the child, but not everyone undergoes such training.

Kim Eacott said she recognizes that education is key to handling meltdowns, but believes the district, while faced with a budget crisis and little funding for training, could at least improve communication by drafting a new policy that requires parental notification.

"We feel that we have a basic and fundamental right to know when this occurs," she said.

Superintendent Dave Allison said he is asking his staff to work on crafting a policy and board member Helen Hollands said that's something the board is willing to weigh.

In the past few years, about a dozen families have filed complaints alleging their special needs children have been subjected to physical and unnecessary restraint or their school has failed to ensure their children meet the goals outlined in their Individual Education Plan.

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