Friday, June 20, 2008

Dangerously Stupid Professional Behavior

This is not an entry I wanted to write.

Gabriel’s dead, and nothing anyone can say or do will change that.

He didn’t need to die, and I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to say that he died because of his disability.

He also died because so-called “professionals” engaged in egregiously stupid behavior.

As Canada’s Gazette reported this morning, 9 year-old Gabriel was autistic. Garden variety, it seems, with outbursts of inappropriate or loud behavior, or as the report noted, “He could be difficult to handle and easily agitated.” But not violent.

Gabriel had a classroom outburst last April the 17th. He got loud, and apparently didn’t comply with his teachers’ warnings to desist.

Nothing unusual there.

BUT, folks, here’s where the usualness of a child with autism engaging in autistic behavior took a dark turn:

When Gabriel continued to behave inappropriately, one teacher took him to the corner of the classroom and rolled him tightly in a weighted blanket.

An accepted intervention in Canada, apparently. With the heavy blanket wrapping him tight, and with only his feet exposed, Gabriel was suffocated to death.

I’m sorry, am I missing something? A weighted blanket?

The report goes on to inform readers that, yes, folks, a weighted blanket is an effective intervention for children with autism.

Don’t believe it, not for a second.

Just read the sanctimonious responses of the apparatchiks justifying the use of this barbaric intervention:

When used under the guidance of an occupational therapist, weighted blankets can be calming for autistic children, said Kathleen Provost, executive director of the Autism Society of Canada.

"They have a therapeutic use and can be relaxing," she said.

Many autistic children respond positively to sensory stimulation like touch, massage and weighted blankets.

Occupational therapists have found sensory stimulation is soothing to autistic kids and sometimes produces better results than medication.

Although teachers at Marie Rivier had received training and guidelines from occupational therapists about how to use weighted blankets, the rules were not followed the day Gabriel died, the coroner's report said.

Forgive my British heritage showing: Absolute balderdash.

The whole rationale for this violence involves so much quackery that I don’t know where to begin.

One: Any physical restraint is, by definition, not therapeutic – it’s a safety measure. It should be done very rarely, and then only under extraordinarily controlled conditions. I can’t think of any way that tightly wrapping and covering an agitated child has any legitimacy whatsoever.

Two: If the Autism Society of Canada sees this as an acceptable intervention, they should rename themselves the Crackpot Autism Society of Canada. Immediately.

Three: The sensory stimulation angle: it’s much beloved by physical and occupational therapists but is absolutely unsupported by empirical evidence. Acting professionally on this idea is like flapping one’s arms and believing that at some point you’ll be able to fly.

Four: Perhaps the scariest part of the report is the solemn observation made by officials that this intervention is OK as long as implementation rules are followed.

Here’s why Gabriel died: Because incompetent teachers, therapists, and administrators were sucked into a half-baked and completely unsupported intervention masquerading as state-of-the-art professional practice in dealing with children with autism.

Gabriel would have been better off, and alive, had he and his family avoided the “highly qualified” professional version of the Keystone Cops.


Amanda said...


Jennie said...

This is absolutely atrocious!! Will there be legal action taken against the teacher?

Deborah said...

There are a lot of really stupid,dangerous, and completely unverified interventions promulgated by narcissistic arrogant "professionals" (facilitated communication comes to mind)who are no better than circus performers. Parents must start questioning the advice they are given by people who should know better than this.


Megan said...

I interned last year at a school based partial hospital for students with emotional and behavioral issues. Restraints were used only if the student was a danger to themselves or others. I think it's interesting that students are "therapeutically restrained." Like you said, no restraint is therapeutic. Also, weighted blankets were used at the school I interned at (not often). I think it's terrible that Gabriel suffocated to death. Our students were never wrapped in these weighted blankets, they were only used to hang over the shoulders of a student and were written in their IEPs as interventions. What do you think would've been a more appropriate intervention for these students. I understand that this is very common in most schools for children with behavioral problems.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for this story. I even took my son to a dentist who tried to wrap him in a blanket like that while attempting to work on his teeth! Choking with suffocation!! (Luckily I was there and told them off! "Sensory Integration" is always one of the "services" schools will provide, while their classrooms are in utter chaos with untrained teachers and aids. I won't send my son to school for fear of what might happen to them. I have many friends who work as aids in the special ed classrooms in my area, so I know lots of horror stories!