Last year, people were horrified to hear of a young boy with autism being kept in a cage at a Canberra school. It wasn’t an isolated incident. Other parents from around Australia have come forward to say their children with disabilities have been locked in rooms and pens, as well as held down and dragged by teachers.
Two mothers, one from Queensland and one from NSW, share their stories with Mamamia.
Oliver, my youngest child, is on the autism spectrum. He’s also been diagnosed with ADHD [attention deficit hyperactivity disorder] and high anxiety.
We always had problems with Oliver not fitting into the school system, but in Year Two, things really started to fall apart. I had him on medication, but it was having horrific side effects. Plus, we suspected he might possibly have a heart condition. So we had to stop medication immediately.
The school wanted Oliver on medication and compliant. To try to get him to comply, they locked him in a room with a concrete floor and cage walls. They said it was for his own safety, but we’re talking about a child that’s going to smash his head on a concrete floor. I had discussions with the school, but they continued to lock him in this room.
In Year Three, his teacher gave him a wedgie – apparently, in order to stop him from running away. She pulled his underwear up through his butt cheeks. The teacher said to me that this was protocol for restraining a child. I was like, ‘Are you serious? That’s physical assault.’
They see him as defiant, basically. They don’t understand that he’s experiencing sensory overload.
A week into Year Four, a parent came up to the school and said that my child had hit his child. The school didn’t question anything and punished Oliver by taking away his reward time. Despite him asking what he’d done wrong, they didn’t tell him. At the end of the day, he had a huge meltdown. The teacher grabbed him on his arms and actually left bruises. I still have photos of the bruises.
Oliver's arm following the incident. "My son was a very small child and the teacher a large man and there was absolutely no way the teacher needed to use such force to restrain a very small child," Melissa says. Photo supplied.
After the incident with the teacher, Oliver would literally vomit at the thought of going to school. The school refused to move him into a class with a more suitable teacher that understood about ASD [autism spectrum disorder]. I was given no choice but to pull my child out and keep him home.
I rang the education department and tried to make an official complaint. They told me, ‘Sometimes, these children need to be handled like this.’ The police were very interested, right up till the point that I mentioned he was special needs. Then the officer I was speaking to said, ‘Oh yes, sorry, but sometimes it’s a bit of a grey area with special needs children.’
I didn’t want to home educate Oliver. I still don’t. I’m a struggling single mother and I have no life of my own because my whole life revolves around educating my 12-year-old. This is our fourth year into home schooling. Not every parent is cut out to do this. I would rather be at work.
Every year I have tried to get him into some kind of educational facility because he’s lacking social interaction. But all the alternative schools have huge waiting lists or don’t get back to us.
It’s extremely hard and extremely draining. I’m trapped in this situation I don’t want to be in and it’s drowning us both.
After the incident, Oliver would vomit at the thought of going to school. He is currently home-schooled. Photo via iStock.
I’ve got a little boy, Fred, who’s eight years old. He’s been diagnosed with autism.
One Friday afternoon last June I got a call from the school telling me Fred had had a really bad day. When I went to pick him up he was very clingy, very emotional. He kept telling me that his arms and his armpits were sore. I told him I was going to put him in the shower soon and the warm water would help take away the pain.
When I took his shirt off to put him in the shower, I burst out crying. He was bruised on the sides of his arms and his armpits. I rang the school but it was too late in the day and no one answered.
I was so distraught I rang the police. They told me it was my word against the teacher’s word.
Fred started to open up about it. He told me that he was on a bike, and they didn’t like that he was standing up to make the wheels turn, so they told him to sit down, and if he couldn’t sit down, then to get off the bike. He proceeded to have a meltdown.
I’ve taught him to go into a quiet corner to self-regulate. He chose under the trampoline. One of the teachers told him he had a certain time to come out of the meltdown and gave him a timer. Another teacher came over and said, ‘If you don’t get out from underneath the trampoline once that buzzer goes off, I’m dragging you out.’ When the buzzer went off, she dragged him out. She dragged him up to the front office. His brother and sister saw him being dragged. He was so upset, he was screaming, ‘Let me go! You’re hurting me!’ She wouldn’t let him go. He tried to flop himself down on the ground and she picked him up and continued to drag him.
On the Monday I marched into the school. The principal took a statement from me and asked to have a look at the bruising on my son. Fred was very, very scared to be there. The principal told me he would deal with the situation. That wasn’t the case.
A couple of days later, Fred’s teacher made him go into the classroom where this other teacher was and made him apologise to her for his bad behaviour.
We’ve never had an apology. We’ve never had anything. Nothing happened to the teacher.
After what happened to Fred, Sarah lodged a complaint with the Department of Education. Photo via iStock.
I kept asking for an incident report from the school. The report didn’t get done till October.
I lodged a complaint with the Department of Education. The department found the school was not at fault for anything they did, except for not doing an incident report sooner.
A few days after the incident, Fred’s behaviour changed dramatically. He is now showing signs of post-traumatic stress syndrome, and he’s been diagnosed with ADHD, ODD [oppositional defiant disorder], SAD [separation anxiety disorder] and severe anxiety.
I had a little boy that was loving and would do anything for anybody. Now I have a little boy who has such aggression and hates everybody. He’s medicated now.
At school, he was taken off the playground and not allowed to play with his brother at recess or lunch. He was locked in the office.
He’s been suspended twice. At the moment, we’re sitting at eight weeks of no school.
I think, if it didn’t happen, would this be the little boy I have today?
Disability advocates around Australia are gathering reports of abuse of disabled children at schools. The information will be sent to the United Nations, who will raise it with the Australian Government. If you’re a parent and would like to report abuse of your disabled child, go to tinyurl.com/SchoolRights.
*Names have been changed.