Seclusion rooms in schools. They’re a thing. They’re a thing that were soon to be banned in our province (Alberta) for the upcoming school year, but the new government has rescinded that ban and will again allow the use of seclusion rooms.
When I heard about the ban being lifted I felt deeply troubled and wanted to share my thoughts. I posted to facebook (you can see that post below) I wasn’t sure what to expect, but what I got was an amazing dialogue with so many different people.
I had comments, private messages, and even a phone call where I talked with people who have used seclusion rooms, have had them used on their children (and been unhappy with the results), and I’ve talked to people with so many different views. Ultimately I want to help people have conversations and share ideas. So I’ve come here to write more about the issue so I can group several different thoughts, from several different people in one place.
In 2018 this story came to light – it shares how different families experienced negative use of the seclusion rooms. One family received a picture of their son, naked and covered in his own faces, locked in a seclusion room. Another family was doing a school tour, and a teacher showed them the seclusion room. The teacher asked the child, “Do you know what a seclusion room is?” the child answered, ‘no’. The teacher then said, ‘It’s where they put bad students.’ Then he closed the door on the child.
It freaked both the mom and the child out.
This news article talks about the ban being lifted as well as offers a slightly different perspective on the subject.
After my post I heard from a lot of people who are appalled that seclusion rooms exist or that they’re used. I also heard from some people who believe they’re the only option available in certain circumstances.
In the sections below I’m sharing a mixture of views from people I’ve talked to over the last few days. I will not share the specific people, though if that was you,, and you’d like your name attached to your thoughts, please let me know and I’ll add your name. I’ve been specifically asked not to share certain information or names in some cases due to professional roles those people have. My conclusion will be my own thoughts on the matter.
How Seclusion Rooms Help
Seclusion rooms aren’t meant for punishment. Rather they’re meant to be used when a student needs a calm place, with few distractions, in order to calm down.
Some students become aggressive and can be a danger to themselves or others. Seclusion rooms can be used to keep both the individual child as well as others safe.
Diversity in the classroom
These rooms allow neuro-diverse children to attend school with neurotypical children. This allows for increased acceptance by students of people with differences.
The more diversity children grow up with, the more accepting they are of others and the more accepting they are of the needs of others.
Previous history of threats and punishments
Some children have been raised with a history of threats and punishments. By the time they get to seventh or eighth grade they’re large enough to cause significant harm to others, or themselves. Depending on the specific abilities of a child, sometimes there isn’t enough time in a day to connect with them enough to prevent dis-regulation. Seclusion rooms offer a safe space that prevents significant harm.
Teachers need more support
Teachers often have classes of 28 or more students and often have several students with complex needs. Schools don’t always provide enough support for teachers which results in a decreased ability to cope with problems in the classroom or with complex needs of students.
Seclusion rooms offer teachers an opportunity to decrease their own stress load by providing a time out for disruptive students.
Teachers are human. Sometimes a person becomes too stressed. Stress decreases a persons ability to access their neocortex (the part of the brain that gives us executive functioning and lets us think things through). This can happen to teachers as well. If a teacher is reaching this point, it’s better to put the student in seclusion than it would be if the teacher continued to be pushed and then possibly snapped and did something far worse.
Seclusion and restraint is used in other facilities
Seclusion rooms, or other restrain systems, are often used in other facilities in order to keep both patients and staff safe. Hospitals, group homes, prisons, and likely other facilities all use various types of restraints, increased observation, and seclusion to make the workload easier on staff. The use of seclusion, restraint, and increased observation is ordered when a person is believed to be a danger to themselves or others. A school benefits the same way.
Reasons Why Seclusion Rooms Should Not Be Used
Seclusion rooms prime students for a cycle of behaviour and punishment. Even though they’re meant to be used as a calm space, they are often used as a punishment for misbehaviour. Often the misbehaviour is out of the child’s control because it’s disregulation not misbehaviour.
Punishment doesn’t teach a child to behave better. It teaches a child to weigh their desire vs the punishment. It also relies on a child having enough executive reasoning to be able to decide to change their behaviour.
Fight, Flight, Flee
Often when children, and adults too, become worked up, they move from being able to think and reason into a more primitive mind space. This space is the fight, flight, flee response. When in this mind space a person has no ability to make decisions.
Getting out of this mind space and able to access executive functioning again requires connection. By its very nature seclusion rooms make it harder for a student to calm down, and the more they’re used the more likely a student will enter the fight, flight, flee mind space.
Seclusion room use increases the likelihood of problematic behaviours and by their nature don’t provide either the individual student, nor the teacher, an opportunity to connect and learn new ways of coping.Scripts To Help You Connect
Teachers need support
Training teachers and education/teacher aids on how to deescalate situations as well as how to guide someone else to regulate would decrease the stress the teachers felt. This would also increase connection and decrease the frequency of deregulation events that happen in a classroom. Related to this topic is staff to student rations.
When a neurodiverse student is in a class, then there should be more staff. When a class has a student or students who’ve experienced trauma, then there should be increased staff. When students are young, and still require guidance in communication respectfully, there should be increased staff.
The more support teachers have, the less likely deregulation events would occur. And when a deregulation event did occur, there’d be support so there’d be less disruption for the rest of the class and also more likely that a staff member could deescalate the situation.
I believe seclusion rooms should not be used in a school setting. However I do recognize that there comes a point when a person may be violent and may need to be removed from a room in order to keep others safe.
When I worked as a registered nurse on a medical unit I used various types of restraints and observation for combative patients or non-compliant patients. In most cases these patients were either delusional, had dementia, or were on drugs of some sort. Connecting and communicating with them could be very difficult. In order to get our job done, we used what we could to make it possible.
Looking back, I think we may have had the wrong outcome as our goal. Humans need connection. In every single case I remember, the person ended up where they were due to broken connections or unhealthy relationships. This could have been caused by abuse, trauma, or even individual mindset and (lack of) coping methods.
I believe if we build relationships, then we can heal the other wounds so much easier.
What does this mean for schools?
I think if teachers want to teach students, then first they need to connect with them and help those students make connections with other students as well. By taking the extra time to build relationships, we decrease the likelihood a student will become so disregulated that they’d become violent enough to require a seclusion room.
In order for teachers to create classrooms based on connection, they first need proper support. I don’t mean from parents, I mean from the school and school division. This might look like having regular coaching or counselling. It may mean having smaller class sizes or more aids. It means if a classroom has students with increased needs, then they need a properly trained aid in the room.
The way schools and classrooms are currently managed means seclusion rooms may be necessary in some cases. However, I believe that by shifting our focus and increasing support, seclusion rooms could easily become a thing of the past.
The number one, most important thing humans need is connection. Design our schools to offer, support, and teach connection, and we wouldn’t need to use disconnection as a means of forcing others to comply. And we wouldn’t have the same level of disregulation.