Many parents of children with autism have to deal with the fact that their child’s school often calls them at work because their child had a meltdown at school. They often demand that the parents come to get the child immediately and take him home. This often leads to shortened school days for prolonged periods of time as the school administrators claim that they don’t have the resources to deal with the child’s behaviour, and the safety of staff and other students are at risk.
Shortened school days or part-time attendance should be a plan agreed upon by both the parents and the school and must only be for the benefit of the student — to meet the needs of the student – not because of a lack of resources at the school. One example of this would be if the student were medically fragile and could not physically manage a full day at school. Another example is if the student is attending another program such IBI part-time, or is gradually transitioning from the IBI program to a full day at school. It would be acceptable for the school to call the parents to take the child home if the child is sick. However, if the child has had a “bad behaviour” day, or several “bad behaviour” days, due to meltdowns, even if it includes aggression, it is not acceptable for the child to be informally, or formally suspended from school, since the behaviour is likely a symptom of the disability (autism in this case).
So how to address this? Be proactive. Request that a Behaviour Intervention or Safety Plan be developed and implemented. It should include the following:
- A description of the student’s behaviour concern.
- A list of triggers or factors that may cause anxiety or agitation which lead to the behaviour of concern.
- Strategies and accommodations, including the level of support, that needs to be in place in order to reduce the incidence of anxiety or agitation.
- Signs to look for that would indicate that there is an increase in anxiety or agitation.
- Actions to be taken by staff immediately when an unsafe behaviour is occurring, such as: separate student from peers, remove student from the situation, call for extra help, etc.
- How to respond when the behaviour is over, such as: documentation, reporting to parents, review the plan — what worked,what didn’t, what needs to change
- A list of common incorrect responses by staff during and after the bhaviour that may maintain or worsen the behaviour (such as sending the child home).
- Program goals to be included in the IEP that would lead to reduced anxiety, such as in the areas of communication, sensory integration, and social skills.
If this plan is developed and implemented as soon as possible when the child with autism starts in a new placement at school, suspensions and shortened school days can be avoided.