Putting out the fire: Dissecting and dismantling the dynamics of restraint and seclusion

Content warning: discussion of seclusion, restraint, ableist and racist violence.




In October 2016, while writing a chapter for a book on ableism, I came across a research article about the use of “aversive interventions” (i.e., punishments) for the “behavior management” of children with disabilities in schools. I shared it on social media, writing: “This is absolutely horrific. As recently as 2009, disabled kids in our country are being subjected to behavior management methods that are not only inhumane, but research has shown them to be ineffective and counterproductive. The most common perpetrators were special education teachers who are supposed to know better.”

Over the next almost-seven years, I would learn far more about these practices, including seclusion (the involuntary confinement of a student to an enclosed area) and restraint (physically immobilizing a student’s body). Not surprisingly, these practices are far more common for students with disabilities, nonspeaking students, Black students, brown students, and Black and brown students with disabilities than for White and nondisabled students. Such practices not only cause trauma for survivors, but they also put school staff at risk for injury. I also learned about other abuses of people with developmental disabilities, such as the skin shocks used at a “school” in Massachusetts, the 2013 murder of a man with Down syndrome by police, and the killing of disabled people by their caregivers.

Last week, I was honored to give an online presentation for the Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint, a nonprofit organization dedicated to reducing and eliminating the use of punitive discipline and outdated behavioral management approaches, and ending the school-to-prison pipeline. My presentation follows the general outline of Chapter 15 in Just Human, mapping the dynamic co-escalation process that can lead people in power to resort to extreme methods of exerting control over people with less power. After examining the process and the factors that make it more likely to play out with disabled, Black and brown students, I present three points in the process when de-escalating, non-punitive intervention is possible.

Here are links to the presentation video, audio with transcript, and slide deck. You can listen to the audio podcast via your favorite podcast app (just search for “AASR Live”) if you prefer. (Note I start speaking around 8 minutes in. The total run time for the audio/video is about 90 minutes).

Watch the video with captions here

Listen to the podcast or read the transcript here

Download the slide deck here

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