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.