Wednesday 10 December 2014

Debate on Physical Restraint

I was debating the wisdom of teaching parents techniques for physically restraining their children with a friend and I thought it would be interesting to share some of the points on both sides.

Against: There is always a risk that either the child or the parent could be injured during a physical altercation, thus parents should be discouraged from using physical methods of control.  We discourage spanking and other methods of corporal punishment, physical restraint is more of the same.

For: Some children with autism (and other challenges) can and do engage in physical confrontations with their parents, siblings and other children and bystanders.  A parent who knows the proper techniques can restrain their child to prevent harm to themselves and those around them.  They are less likely to cause harm than an untrained parent, who is likely to still try restraining the child, but with less chance of success.

Against: Since it is upsetting to be attacked or watch your child attack someone, parents are likely to be angry when attempting to restrain their child, making it hard for them to judge their strength and speed.

For: A trained parent, the confidence of being able to deal with the situation makes it less likely they will become angry.  Just like knowing the proper behavioural techniques makes it less likely a parent will become angry at a child's improper behaviour.  If you know how to deal with it, the situation is less overwhelming.

Against: Parents should focus on behavioural solutions, not physical ones.  They are more effective long term and solve, rather than mask, the problems.

For: Behavioural solutions are more effective and better long term.  But they take a long time to work and parents are stuck with difficult situations in the meantime.

Personally, I'm in favour of giving parents the tools they need.  I received training on physical restraint techniques and it's saved myself and others from injury a number of times.  It doesn't always work, but it means I'm not wading in helpless when Alex is trying to attack someone because he feels overwhelmed.  My goal is always to try and prevent such incidents by being aware of his triggers and sensitivities and we've done extensive behavioural work to try and eliminate aggression as his response to frustration.  But the reality is that there were and are a large number of incidents where I needed to intervene.  And so I'm glad I knew what to try and more importantly, what to avoid at all costs.

I didn't include it above but I have heard the argument that parents should just take the hit from their child if that is what is necessary during a physical tantrum.  The problem with this argument is that it potentially leaves the parent incapacitated.  I've had my nose cracked and ended up with blood pouring down my face (because I wasn't holding Alex correctly and he got my nose with his head.  He was four and a half at the time.).  At that point, I was helpless to do anything to deal with him and if we hadn't already been at home, he could have taken off or hurt someone else.  People shouldn't assume that a child cannot cause any real harm.  They may be smaller, but often they are not holding anything back, which means they can do real damage.

Also, the time when a parent can physically intervene is limited.  As a child gets larger and stronger, physical intervention gets riskier.  More force is needed and the risk of injury to both parent and child is greater.  It is always better to deal with aggression while the child is still small.

I'm sure plenty of people will be horrified at the idea of restraining a child and that's why there's a debate about it. 

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