Mummy Buzz


9 Year-Old Boy with Autism Handcuffed at School

Not a Monster or a criminal

Police were called to an Ottawa elementary school this week. Was there a weapon involved? Were threats made? No. A young boy with autism was simply having a meltdown. Their response: handcuff him.

He's nine years-old.

Daniel Ten Oever is neither a monster nor a criminal, though he was treated as exactly that. Both police and Catholic school board officials justified the response as totally necessary.

As a parent of an autistic boy with aggressive tendencies, I find this conduct appalling and grossly incompetent. I say "incompetent" because anyone who understands anything about autism and autistic meltdowns knows that restraint is categorically not the way to deal with "outbursts." It makes matters worse.

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When my six year-old used to lose it—which could mean scratching, thrashing, kicking, spitting, punching, throwing things—he was in a highly distressed state, and totally out of control of his body. I liken it to an epileptic fit, after which he would come to, exhausted and seemingly unaware of the force that had just taken over his small body.

What kids in the thralls of a meltdown need is a safe place, where they won't hurt themselves or anyone else, in which to wait out the storm. 

What they don't need is forcible restraint or any other punitive measure that inflicts trauma.

No wonder Ten Oever is now terrified of police. We entrust our professionals and other authority figures to care for and protect our children, and this is what we get. Notice I said our children. Yours and mine. 

Earlier this year my son had an "outburst" at school. Staff responded beautifully. The first course of action was to remove objects that could be thrown. Kids were told to back off and give him some space. They waited it out while my son recovered. It was dignified and respectful way to deal with a crisis situation. Fortunately these outbursts are rare, but there is usually some underlying trigger that requires further investigation.

After all, a meltdown is an expression of acute vulnerability that doesn't know how to "use words" or express itself in any other way. 

What happened to Ten Oever isn't unheard of. Similar stories of kids with autism being restrained prove that our communities still have so much to learn when it comes to dealing effectively, sensitively with autism.