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Dublin: 4°C Thursday 26 November 2020

Lack of isolation room regulation puts children with autism at risk of 'serious abuse'

A number of organisations have expressed concern over this morning’s revelations that withdrawal rooms are being used inappropriately, and has prompted calls for a government investigation.

Image: door handle via Shutterstock

A LACK OF training has been blamed for the misuse of ‘withdrawal rooms’, amid calls from government opposition for an investigation into their usage.

One organisation said they constituted a “serious abuse of the child and a lack of understanding or knowledge of Autism”.

This morning, TheJournal.ie revealed autistic children as young as eight-years-old are being locked in so-called ‘withdrawal rooms’ for hours without supervision.

Used in schools with Autism Spectrum Disorder units, they are intended to contain the child when they are experiencing a meltdown, and are at risk of injuring themselves or others.

However, children are being locked into these rooms for a number of other reasons, such as when they become frustrated after falling behind on work.

National protocols

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, CEO of Irish Autism Action Kevin Whelan raised concerns over the lack of national protocols on how to handle these situations.

“We would recognise different occasions where the child would need to have a separate space, but that needs to be carried out according to international best practice, and used as a last resort.”

Our concern is that it is not regulated, and in some instances it could become the first option.

The Irish Society for Autism are calling for an ‘urgent roll-out of Autism specific training’ to avoid potential abuse of children resulting from the use of these facilities, a call echoed by those working in with children in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) units.

Speaking through IMPACT, the representative union for Special Needs Assistants (SNA), one of these assistants said that isolation techniques are not a solution when teaching children with ASD who might be experiencing difficulties, and that adequate training is badly needed.

‘Little or no training’

“There is little or no adequate training available in appropriate methods of managing challenging behaviours,” the group said.

It added that many assistants have been injured during the course of their work, as many as 60 per cent according to a survey conducted last year.

Meanwhile, Sinn Féin have called on the Minister for Education to launch an investigation into the use of withdrawal rooms in schools.

The party’s Education Spokesperson Jonathan O’Brien described children with special needs as living with the ‘serious consequences of government cutbacks’, noting that the incidents involved in this morning’s piece occurred following the loss of the child’s Special Needs Assistant (SNA).

This website is currently awaiting a response from the Department of Education and the school involved in one of the incidents highlighted in this morning’s article.

Revealed: Autistic children locked in unsupervised ‘isolation rooms’ for hours >

About the author:

Nicky Ryan

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