It is the third week of school. A child with autism is in a first grade class with a teacher, a paraprofessional and 8 other children with autism. This young child has communication needs so severe that an augmentative alternative communication device is a part of the supports provided. Frustration abounds in this child’s day. Routines are not set. Expectations may not be clear and practiced. Transitions are not well defined. Sensory overload has occurred. The child was not ready to transition. The child was not able to say, “Please wait. I want more time.” Frustration overflowed in this precious child. He shoved his classmate. He pushed a chair into another student. He was suspended.
What is to be learned from this scenario? How does suspension relate to the behavior exhibited?
This question MUST be examined by every administrator in every school where students with disabilities attend. In fact, it is a question to be examined by all administrators of all children. We are learning to understand and implement Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) in some of our nation’s schools for some students. What are the PBIS strategies to act proactively and the behavioral support strategies for students like our child in first grade? Explain how suspension helps? What does it teach? How does it help address and prevent the triggers that likely caused the unacceptable response by the child with autism? How does it teach the child to better handle frustration and respond differently next time?
Yes, administrators have tough jobs. Bless them. No, hurting a classmate/teacher with such a response is not an action we ever want to see at school or anywhere. But there are far better solutions to address the situation than suspending the child. IEP teams need to be flexible enough to quickly address these kinds of situations. Administrators need to reach out to those teams. Teams need to reach out to administrators. Let’s keep the child in a positive learning situation. Let’s make sure more children are not hurt, or worse, by teaching the wrong lesson. It’s the age old question: Does punishment work? Not in this case or any other like it.