Violence Against Children With Disabilities: Underreported and All Too Common
Corporal punishment is — shockingly — legal in 19 US states. Even more shocking is how often it’s used on students with disabilities. Today in 21st century America, a 6-year-old autistic boy, Landon K., was paddled with an inch-thick paddle by an assistant principal in Mississippi. Another autistic student, 15-year-old Jonathan C., was placed in a chokehold by a male staff member in a school in Florida. His offense? Screaming in the cafeteria — which, given his autism diagnosis, could very well have occurred due to sensory overload and challenges communicating.
More than 200,000 children are struck each school year, according to Department of Justice data, and that’s just counting what is reported. Clearly it’s high time that our society and our government do something about the continued use of corporal punishment on our students and, especially, our students with disabilities. On September 22, the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act (ECPSA) was reintroduced into Congress. The bill would prohibit school personnel from striking children in their care.
The ECPSA’s provisions are long overdue, especially in the case of children with disabilities.The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights has just released a report on peer-to-peer violence and bullying (PDF) that urges the Departments of Justice and Education to pay more attention to violence against students with disabilities. Such violence is a form of discrimination and is prohibited under federal law. It†is all the more harmful for children with disabilities, who already face many obstacles to learning and understanding social cues and norms:
- In a 2009 study, 94 percent of parents of children with Asperger’s Syndrome reported that their children had been bullied.
- 65 said that their children had been victimized by peers.
- 50 percent that their children had been “scared” by peers.
Another 2009 study (PDF) found that 39.6 percent of parents of autistic children reported their children had been bullied for over a year.†As many children with disabilities have difficulties communicating, the extent to which they are bullied and subjected to violence from peers may well be underreported.
In addition, many autistic children are subjected to physical restraint as a “behavioral technique” by school staff. In a recent court case in Indiana, a special education teacher was cleared of charges in using restraint procedures against a 12-year-old autistic boy. †The†US Department of Education has said that, by this fall, it will†issue guidelines to school districts about the use of restraints, seclusion and other aversive procedures in US public schools. But currently there are no federal guidelines for restraint and seclusion procedures; some states have regulations but many leave these to the discretion of individual school districts.
As Alice Farmer of Human Rights Watch reminds us, this year is the fifth since the United Nations issued a report about violence against children. Before the US can censure other countries for their treatment of children, should not we enact laws to ensure that our children are safe and are not subjected to violence and physical abuse by those who are purportedly looking out for them?
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Photo by Kelley Mari