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Restraints, Seclusions Target Students With Autism, New Report Shows

Children with autism were the most frequently subjected to restraint or seclusion in Connecticut schools in the 2012-13 school year, according to a new state report that tallied more than 33,000 incidents of physical restraint or seclusion in public schools and private special education programs.

The report from the state Department of Education shows that autism was the primary disability among special education students subject to “emergency” restraint or seclusion, with 40.4 percent of all such incidents involving a child with autism. Autism also accounted for nearly half of all cases in which children were put in seclusion as part of their individualized education plans, or IEPs. The report shows a slight decline from the previous year in the overall number of students restrained or secluded, and a drop in reports of injuries – from 840 in 2011-12, to 378 last year. But the number of serious injuries rose from eight to 10, and more than 900 reported episodes of seclusion or restraint lasted more than an hour. “This is just so disheartening,” said Shannon Knall of Simsbury, policy chair of the Connecticut chapter of Autism Speaks, an advocacy group.

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Families Brace For Changes In Autism Diagnosis

Proposed changes to the official autism diagnosis are raising concerns among advocates and families, with many fearing the new criteria will lead to a loss of services and a sense of identity for some high-functioning individuals with special needs. “There’s no question some people (on the autism spectrum) will lose services,” said Dr.  Fred Volkmar, an internationally renowned expert on autism and director of the Yale Child Study Center.  Volkmar was the lead author of a study that found that only 45 percent of those currently diagnosed with higher functioning forms of autism would meet the new criteria. Sarah Reed, director of advocacy and family services for the Connecticut Autism Spectrum Resource Center in Wallingford, predicted “chaos in the coming months. Families are confused and concerned that their loved ones with autism will not qualify for education and support services under the new criteria.” At issue are proposed criteria for autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual fifth edition (DSM-5).

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