Throwing other kids under a bus to save our own: The justification and defense of the indefensible


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 result. While those who have left comments directly on my site have understood my stance and agreed with it, I’ve read comments elsewhere regarding the story, and, well… I can’t even begin to understand some of them.

First of all, the defensive comments about the police actions in this situation are fascinating: cops have a very hard job, and they need to make hard choices to secure the scene and keep people safe. I have never argued otherwise. Police officers are entrusted with our safety, it’s true. But you know what? Of the officers I’ve talked to personally (and I’ve spoken with several), every single one has been open to training to help them do their jobs better. Generally, when we know better, we do better, and the officers who are in the job to make a difference in their communities WANT to do right by their residents. I don’t believe that any decent human being thinks that handcuffing a panicked 9-year-old child is the best course of action, but I do think that without specific skills and tips on how to handle situations with special populations, officers are left with limited tools. And if all you’ve got is training on how to take down a threatening perp, children will continue to be handcuffed.

The comments lauding the police actions weren’t the ones that troubled me most, though. I’ve read comments like the following:

* if that what it took to calm him down, then so be it. My daughter who has Down Syndrome has been hurt by outburst like this.

* I really don’t think the rights of this one child in this situation to attend daycare should trump the needs of all of the other children in the facility. Who truthfully knows what set this child off and how out of hand it could have gotten in an instant? Sure it could have been handled differently but what if another child had been in the way of his tantrum? Who advocates for the safety of the other children?

I have never once argued that this child should be treated as a higher priority than the others in the daycare. I have never once argued that my own children’s needs be given priority over those of other children. That’s not what this is about. Sacrificing one child to “save” the herd has a very clear (though likely unintended) side effect: it reinforces and perpetuates the idea that children with autism and mental health issues are “dangerous,” are less worthy of respectful and humane treatment, and are unwelcome. It reinforces the idea that it’s totally acceptable to tease these children, call them names, bully them physically. It maintains the cycle of abuse of children with disabilities, because children who grow up with the notion that those of us who are different are not equal become adults who refuse to develop and implement training policies that keep all of us safer, healthier, and happier.

Austin is no more important than any other child in that daycare. But he’s also not less important than any of them, either. He should be able to grow up feeling like his place in the world is valued, not resented.

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1 Comment

  1. September 5, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    ” it reinforces and perpetuates the idea that children with autism and mental health issues are “dangerous,”

    I think any upset child who is able to barricade themselves in a locked room is a danger, if only to themselves. This is not the child’s fault. Kids should have a safe space. and that means that the adults, in co-operation with the child’s parent(s) need to have a clear idea of how to make care environments kid-proof.


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