13 Oct 2016

Locking away autistic boy 'wrong on so many levels'

9:45 pm on 13 October 2016

The parents of a six-year-old autistic boy are moving him to another school after staff at Wellington's Miramar Central School held him in a room the size of a toilet, they say.

Ngaire and Jeremy Mansfield told Checkpoint with John Campbell they had no idea that could be happening, until the New Zealand Herald revealed some children had been locked in a very small cell-like room in the school as punishment or as a form of control.

One 11-year-old boy, described as autistic and with the mental age of a toddler, was reportedly put in the room 13 times in nine days.

The report prompted other parents to look into the treatment of their children. The Mansfields said they didn't know the room existed, and they wouldn't have known about it at all, if there had not been other complaints.

The entrance to the discipline room at Miramar Central School.

The entrance to the room at the school Photo: Supplied

Mrs Mansfield said their son had the mental age of a three-year-old, and was non-verbal.

"He can't tell us what is going on. He has different ways of communicating. There is no way he could say, 'Mum, I was locked in a room today.' And that's our biggest fear, for a child like that who is so vulnerable, we need to trust who we leave to care for him."

Mr Mansfield said they had not been told about the room's use, and would not have placed their son in the school if they had known.

Mrs Mansfield said they had kept him at school to maintain his routine, and because they knew he was safe with his teacher aide (TA), but they were transitioning him as soon as possible to another school.

"We don't want him to be there anymore.

"I just don't feel there is an option and I'm not happy to leave him in that situation if his TA isn't there, I have to rely on the adminsitration of the school to take care of him. And when that situation arose, it wasn't dealt with appropriately.

"It's wrong on so many levels and I want better for my boy."

The Ministry of Education said it would release a report into the school's use of the so-called seclusion room tomorrow, which would reveal how many children had been placed in it.

But a spokesman said the practice was not acceptable and there were much better ways to get children to behave.

Miramar Central School

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

The ministry's national director of special education, David Wales, said an investigation had found that the use of the room was not appropriate, and the school had ceased using it.

"We consider seclusion to be an extremely serious intervention, and it's got risks associated with it. And really, it's a practice that we are seeking to work with schools to eliminate in New Zealand. In time, it has to go."

Education Minister Hekia Parata said she was absolutely horrified to hear of autistic children being locked in a cell-like room

Mrs Parata said she had been given the Ministry of Education's report into the room tonight, but did not agree with how the room was being used.

"I think it is absolutely intolerable that a wee boy like this has had that treatment in response to his behaviour. I think that a seclusion room of this nature is unacceptable."

Miramar Central School principal John Taylor-Smith declined to be interviewed by Checkpoint.

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