UPDATE: Handcuffing of children with autism by police is never appropriate

Police officer holding handcuffsOttawa, Canada – No parent wants to receive that dreaded phone call from school advising them to come immediately because something has happened with their child.

As a parent of a teenager with classic autism, I can tell you first hand that my heart skips a beat when I see the phone number of my son’s school on my call display.  Even before answering the phone I have a dozen different scenarios racing through my mind, none of them are pleasant or positive.

But imagine for a minute that such a scenario does play out and when you arrive at school you discover that your child was restrained.  Worse yet, that they were restrained by a police officer who handcuffed them.

This is exactly what happened to Stephanie Huck whose son, Daniel Ten Oever, was handcuffed by police while waiting for his parents to come pick him up.

Daniel’s parents were called in because he was acting out.  When they arrived at school they were informed that he was restrained because he had apparently been throwing chairs.  At that moment, nobody advised Daniel’s parents the retrains they were referring to were handcuffs.  They only found this out when they got home and Daniel’s father was asking him questions about the police officer and if she had hurt Daniel.

Daniel responded by putting his hands behind his back and saying “only when they put the metal things on my hands”.

There are inconsistencies with what actually occurred.  Daniel’s parents were told the police officer was at the school for a different matter and that she alone decided to handcuff Daniel and the principal, at some point, requested the handcuffs be removed.

However, Daniel has said it was the principal that asked the police officer to handcuff him and it was the vice-principal that requested them to be removed.

The discrepancies with what actually transpired, compounded by the fact that the school failed to advise the parents Daniel was handcuffed, makes one question the transparency, or lack thereof, that exists within a system that is designed to protect and serve the children.

Children with autism require different attention and instruction.  IEP’s (Individualized Education Plan) are created to address academic and behavioural needs.   When necessary, additional support is added and the curriculum is modified/adapted to accommodate the students’ special needs.

We send them to school and pray they are safe, that the resources we have worked so hard to put in place are actually being applied by the staff that is working with them.

It is a harsh reality that many employees working in our schools are not properly trained to handle the behaviour of an autistic child.  When an autistic child lashes out, has a meltdown or an outburst, it is almost always due to something that triggered this behaviour.  In order to diminish these episodes from happening, they must first begin to understand the human being that is standing in front of them.

This person isn’t a walking diagnosis. This person is a human being, equal of the same rights and dignity as the adult that is standing before them.

Many law enforcement agencies are also not informed about autism or how to approach and speak to an autistic person going through a meltdown.  If a school is not properly trained at handling these situations, calling law enforcement can only lead to a much more intense situation for everyone involved.

The safety of all students and staff at school is absolutely the number one priority.  Getting educated on how to deal with behavioural issues that may arise with an autistic student would be the first line of defence.  Handcuffing a nine year old child demonstrates how unprepared this school was.

The most damaging affect this situation has created is the emotional damage that Daniel has endured.  It would be traumatic for any person to be approached and handcuffed by a police officer.  Imagine a nine year old child with autism.

This could have been my son or your daughter.  It could have happened to any one of our children.  It is time that schools are properly staffed and properly educated on how to work and help children with autism, especially those with behavioural issues.

We listen to Daniel’s parents and their story resonates deeply with us.  At one point in our lives we also had issues and confrontations with the school and school district.  This isn’t an isolated incident.  No, unfortunately, it is a common occurrence.

The Ten Oever family has unintentionally been thrown in the media spotlight and there is a community of supporters that are cheering them on.

They represent every parent of a child with special needs that has fought for the rightful services and resources for their son or daughter.

They represent the parents that are told to pick up their child because the school doesn’t have enough support staff to deal with the outburst.

They represent the parents that are considered difficult and unreasonable because they consistently advocate for their child.

They represent the parents that want equality and fairness for their child.

They represent the parents that have silently cried over the injustices of system that is not designed to support children with special needs.

I stand and support this family because at this very moment, they represent me and my family.

Editor’s Note: The full 7 minute statement to the press that occurred a few hours ago can be viewed by clicking the link below. We encourage our readers to take the time to view it

http://www.ctvnews.ca/video?clipId=572818