Autistic children as young as eight are being locked in “withdrawal rooms” in schools in Ireland for hours, according to a report.
An 11-year-old with autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) was kept in one of the rooms, which are sometimes padded, for three days in a row in January last year, according to The Journal news website. He spent five hours in the room on two of the days.
On one day, the child attempted to smash the only window and was found by the parent who came to collect him, still in the room, surrounded by broken glass and bleeding from his feet.
The parent said the room was “barbaric”, adding: "it wasn’t until November that my child laughed again.”
The Journal said it knew of two other schools where withdrawal rooms were used.
A group called Parents Against Isolation Rooms Ireland is raising a petition for the rooms to be banned.
“Children can see these rooms as a punishment and it can have a lasting psychological effect on them,” group spokeswoman Niamh Deane said. “I’ve been contacted by dozens of families who are frightened by them.”
Ireland’s Child and Family Agency said it does not comment on individual cases. “If there are concerns regarding a child, these should be brought to the attention of the nearest Social Work Department for investigation and follow up when necessary,” it said.
Ireland’s Department of Education describes the rooms as a “small safe space” and pays for them to be built. They are designed to be used for “a short period of time”.
Dr Joseph McAllister Jr, a US-based autism expert, said such rooms should be viewed as a last resort.
“When it is used, it should be used briefly. The theme should be looking to get an individual out of there as soon as it is no longer necessary,” he said.