It is difficult to imagine that aversive procedures that are capable of harming the intended recipient are effective or even considered useful, but in some cases they are all that is available. In certain scenarios the use of such punishments are highly illegal, while in others they are the only course open to those who are involved. Such procedures are at times useful in keeping the affected individual from harming themselves and others, but can also cause unintended harm that is not desired but becomes unavoidable. The line between punishment and torture is often crossed without cause or reason, but can also be broken without any true intent. Punishment is meant to teach, not to harm.
Punishment for adults is often seen to be much harsher and more direct than it typically is for adolescents, as adults can absorb and withstand far more physical and psychological punishment than children can. The procedures used for adults are often toned down for children so as not to cause any serious, irreparable harm, though in some cases the restraints are not as sound and accidents do occur. Children who suffer through such treatment are often those who are special needs and otherwise mentally handicapped individuals who are not fully aware of their behavior and what they can do. In the case of many it is necessary to use physical restraints or some form of seclusion in order to allow them to calm down and attain a reasonable state of mind.
Physical restraints could be anything from the simple grabbing of an arm or wrist to
actual leather straps and buckles, while isolation can be added along with restraints or imposed
on its own. In any case both punishments can be positive experiences but are far too often
regarded as cruel and unjust in the manner they are presented. This is not to mention that many
other forms of “punishment” have been known to occur along with restraint and isolation, such
as forcing spicy liquids into the student’s mouth or making them sniff ammonia or many other controversial practices. In any case, most punishments begin with either isolation or restraint and progress from that point.
The act of using restraints and seclusion can have three very proven effects on a special needs child:
1) The child can be allowed to sort out their own thoughts and feelings in a private, non-pressured space where they can vent their frustrations.
2) Restraints, when used properly, can keep the child from hurting themselves or others.
3) When proper restraint is used it can help to avoid any legal issues through undue harm and/or defensive wounds that might occur from attempting to restrain an out of control student.
It is still believed that restraining a child and/or adolescent is entirely avoidable and can be handled in another, less confrontational manner. The general feeling is that restraint and seclusion are methods that are best left in the bygone era they originated from, as they are now largely considered cruel and unusual punishment for a child. The mere act of being left in a closet or closed off room, isolated from the rest of the classroom and left to sit until a teacher or other authority figure decides the student has been punished enough seems counterproductive to the learning process. In some cases the method of isolation has become so abused that students have urinated on themselves and even suffered the very real danger of asphyxiation when placed in restraints (Westling, Trader, Smith, Marshall, 2010, p117).
Three obvious concerns for the use of restraints and seclusion are:
1) Injury is very common when using restraints, and can become a serious issue in the case of those who are either not skilled in restraining others or are negligent in how they handle students.
2) Isolation from the rest of the classroom has been shown to be an abuse of power in many cases. Some children have broken down crying, others have urinated on themselves, and even others have reportedly developed deep psychological issues as a result of exclusion from their peers.
3) Being restrained and/or isolated from the rest of the class has been seen to only make behaviors worsen, not improve (Westling, Trader, Smith, Marshall, 2010, p125).
Isolation can be the more calming of the two punishments, and can be seen as something other than a negative reaction. The trick to this lies in the professionalism of the individual who utilizes the method and how they interact with the adolescent being reprimanded. It is important to not demonize certain punishments to the point that they are feared. Isolation is a dirty word to many but can be a calming, relaxing time for the affected student or students to reflect and calm themselves in an unobstructed manner.
Actual physical restraints should only be used in the worst case scenarios, and only by those who have been properly trained in their use. It should be necessary for educators, particularly those with special needs students, to be well-versed in the use of such restraints. Physical restraint should only be used when no other option is available and the safety of the student and others is at risk. Unless there are no other options physical restraint should not be necessary.
The use of aversive punishment was, in its own day, a means by which to affect the
change in behavior that was desired. Nowadays it has become more of a medieval method that
can cause more harm than good. Behaviors are rarely shown to be affected in a positive way by
aversive punishment, and in fact only seem to grow worse. The act of punishment is to modify
behavior without causing its further decline.
Westling, D.L.; Trader, B.R.; Smith, C.A.; Marshall, D.S. (2010). Use of Restraints, Seclusion,
and Aversive Procedures on Students With Disabilities. Research & Practice for Persons with Severe Disabilities, 35(3-4): 116-127.