Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Use 'Gentle Teaching" not physical take-downs on disrupitive students

As a child in orthopedic schools in the 1950s, I clearly remember other disabled children being tackled or held down by teachers.

I never forgot the embarrassment or the anger I felt in those moments. I found a former teacher from Leland School for Crippled Children where I attended and asked her decades after these events occurred why this was done.
“I guess, Jerry, we didn’t know any better,” she said.

I didn’t feel that much better since ignorance is not an excuse for hurting someone else but the intent of harm seemed absent in the teacher’s words so I finally let go of anger I carried for years.
I guess, according to a Battle Creek Enquirer article sent to me by colleagues, physical restraints are still being used to “control” students with disabilities who are ‘disruptive.’

Tom Watkins, the Michigan State Superintendent of Schools from 2001-2005 and deputy director of the Michigan Department of Mental Health between 1983-90, says this “inhumane” restraining behavior or seclusion is still happening state schools.
Unfortunately, there are no policies or legislation to stop the restraint or exclusion from others in state statutes today, he said. Lawmakers need to pass laws to stop physical, mechanical, or chemical restraints used to control the disabled.

“People working with persons who have intellectual and developmental disabilities need training in the proper techniques for preventing the issues from escalating to a perceived need for such interventions,” Watkins noted.
I vividly recall some 52 years later how a classmate, Tom, was tackled by a janitor at Leland when my friend had a panic attack and started running outside of the school.

The janitor tackled Tom a few feet from the Lafayette Towers and the momentum of the tackle sent Tom into the side of the wall of the building where he suffered a concussion, cuts, and severe contusions. Tom was out of school thereafter for weeks.
Tom was a good guy. He once carried me from a playground to the nurse’s station after I hurt my leg and couldn’t walk.
There are psychological techniques today that can defuse a violent situation. They are the Gentle Teaching methodology developed by the late John McGee of the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center.

You try to develop trust with the person with a disability or mental illness; then show them love; they then likely will show you love with a hug and both the clinician and person with a disability develop a sense of belonging and community.
Since I came to MORC in mid-April I have seen this work. No one ever has to be “taken down” anymore. Instead, reach out your open hand and develop a trusting relationship.

Jerry Wolffe is the rights advocate at large/writer in residence at MORC. He can be reached at 586-263-8950.