The Therapy Beat

The Therapy Beat

Agitated Kids, Dangerous Punishment: Rethinking the Policy of Seclusion and Restraint

By Chris Lyford

March/April 2022

Guy Stephens isn’t a psychotherapist. He isn’t a neuroscientist. And he isn’t a politician, either. But the way he talks about trauma, the brain, and public policy, you wouldn’t know it. He knows about these things only because he has to know about them.

Stephens’s son, Cooper, is neurodivergent and suffers from anxiety. At school, he’s always needed extra care and support. But 10 years ago, when Cooper told teachers he didn’t want to come back to class after recess, he was forcibly returned to the building and locked in a classroom, alone, for the next hour. Distressed, he stripped off his clothes and began to wail. He was six years old.

Stephens was outraged. He moved Cooper to a different school placement, where the teachers better understood and met Cooper’s needs. But three years later, Cooper was again locked in a room alone, this time as punishment for hiding in the bathroom. In this instance after being locked in, Cooper tried climbing out an open window.

Stephens tried homeschooling Cooper for two years, but he missed his classmates too much, and Stephens felt he had no option but to return Cooper to school. But problems continued. Not long after returning, Cooper was again forcefully isolated for throwing a book. And again later, for splashing water.

Stephens suspects Cooper was subjected to isolation roughly eight times that year—and over half the time, he heard about it directly from Cooper, not from teachers or school…

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