On the handcuffing of a young child with Asperger’s

A news story popped up on my Twitter stream late this afternoon: Apparently, last month, a nine-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome was restrained with handcuffs by police at his daycare.

Not only does Peter Frampton, Executive Director of The Learning Enrichment Foundation stand by the decision of staff to call 911 in this circumstance, but the child has also now been banned from all LEF programs.

This boy was being bullied by other children at the daycare. His reaction to being called names in the lunch room is not described in the news story, but the consequences were swift, and delivered only to him, from what can be seen.

I know there are always several sides to a story. Maybe he punched someone. It’s possible. The fact remains, however, that no focus has been placed on what triggered this child. The only thing his mother has been told is that the organization cannot meet his needs. From what I can glean from the available information, the boy’s needs include a safe inclusive space with a progressive anti-bullying policy. I’m betting his needs also include not being terrified into lying on his belly and having his hands cuffed behind his back.

He was confined in an empty classroom after the lunchroom incident, where his behaviour got “unruly” and he barricaded himself in the room. By all accounts, he and every other child and employee were physically safe while he was in the room (though locking him up without meting out consequences to those who triggered the meltdown is also unacceptable). No one was at risk while he was in that space. If they felt at a loss, staff members had options:

* They could have waited until his mother arrived on the scene. She was en route as soon as they called her, and likely would have been better equipped than anyone else to calm him down.

* They could have accessed the resources made available to them through the City of Toronto.

The City provides supports to children and families in several daycare centres. It has defined “inclusive child care” as follows:

* your family has access to early learning and care programs the same as all other families, and
* your child is welcome and treated in the same thoughtful and respectful way as all other children.

Would ANY child be thrown in a room, have the police called on him/her, and be put in handcuffs until s/he calmed down? Would any child feel welcome or feel like s/he was treated in a thoughtful and respectful way, like all other children, after such treatment?

The response of Toronto Police Services is also reprehensible. He calmed down, and wasn’t injured, so it’s all good? The kid is TERRIFIED of the police now (and rightfully so). What would the official statement have been if he’d had bruises or abrasions, or if he’d dislocated his shoulder? What if putting him in cuffs scared him so much that his anxiety was amplified, and he attacked the officer? Would we have been dealing with a fatal taser blast to a small child, or other use of unnecessary force? Would the (and I apologize for the coming pun) post-mortem after this case read differently in that situation? Would the police accept the institutional responsibility if it hadn’t gone down the way they’d hoped it would?

There are at least two major villains in this story, and neither of them is a young boy named Austin. Ongoing support services are available through the city to licensed child care facilities (of which the day care in question is). Allowing a child with stuff to be bullied for that stuff, and punishing him (and only him) for reacting is a clear sign that these services have not been accessed.

That the police responded with such over-the-top force in a non-critical situation where no one was at risk of immediate harm is a clear sign that the Toronto Police Service has work to do with its officers around understanding how to approach individuals with autism spectrum disorders.

This could have gone down so much worse. But you know what? With a little bit of understanding, it could also have gone down a lot better.



  1. August 30, 2011 at 4:53 am

    I only qualified as a teacher recently, but in that time I’ve worked with special needs on a regular basis. In every case where a school or institution has said “we can provide for your child’s needs” the staff have been highly trained, dedicated and the most caring people I’ve had the luxury of working with. The very idea of using the Police as a last resort measure in ANY circumstances is totally anathema. In knowing that plenty of places exist where special needs are not only catered for but welcomed, the idea of an organisation covering up their own incompetence with a phone call to the police is, frankly, offensive. Do they think we’re stupid? Do they think that we can’t put two and two together and see that they failed massively and publicly? Don’t get me started on the temerity of defending this action. If you look at any sensible policy on child protection, the point where you phone the police is only ever to deal with cases of abuse, and they are being brought in to PROTECT THE CHILD – and they won’t be the only outside agency involved, social services will have been informed simultaneously. The idea of an institution that can’t protect the children in its care without resorting to outside “assistance” is repulsive and should be investigated with the utmost scrutiny.

  2. August 30, 2011 at 7:34 am

    […] On the handcuffing of a young child with Asperger’s A news story popped up on my Twitter stream late this afternoon: Apparently, last month, a nine-year-old boy with Asperger's Syndrome was restrained with handcuffs by police at his daycare. Not… Source: livingmysocialwork.wordpress.com […]

  3. jaycee said,

    September 1, 2011 at 9:11 pm

    I am speechless after reading this. That poor child. His poor parents.

  4. September 2, 2011 at 1:01 pm

    I was horrified when I read the news story the other day and now I am sobbing reading this post. My son is 9 and has ASD. My son has issues with anger and violence and it terrifies me that someday we might be in this very situation.

    It should never have happened. Ever. It is so wrong.

    My heart aches for this family.

  5. September 2, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    I have been spitting with anger since this story hit the airwaves. There is no excuse for this. None at all. My own child has autism, and like most children with autism, he has meltdowns when confronted with a situation he does not know how to handle.

    And yet.

    When we enrolled him in daycare 4 years ago – in Toronto, by the way – he was welcomed with open arms by all concerned. The daycare knew nothing about kids with autism. They had never had a kid with autism. But they were prepared to learn. The administrator had all of her staff take extra training. She called on the city for resources.

    The daycare staff never – not ONCE – treated my son with anything but kindness, patience, and respect. Yes, he had meltdowns during his time there. But they were handled in a sensitive, caring manner. There was one accident during a meltdown, when he fell onto the corner of a bookshelf while stimming and needed a stitch on his face. The daycare felt awful about it, even though it was not their fault. They had tried their best to keep him safe.

    They were awesome, and calling the police would not even have crossed their minds.

    What makes me really sick to the stomach is the comments on the news stories that defend the actions of the police.

  6. September 2, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    […] autism, child care, disability, mental health, parenting, special education) I wrote earlier this week about the 9-year-old child who’d had a meltdown at his daycare and ended up in handcuffs as a […]

  7. Dorianne said,

    September 4, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    “Peter Frampton”!

  8. Kerrie said,

    April 22, 2012 at 3:48 pm

    dude. this is partly why i homeschool. no joke. it’s good work if you can get it šŸ™‚

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