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Abuse of Special Needs Children in our Public Schools

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

The Government Accounting Office (GAO) released a report to the Congressional Committee on Labor and Education about the treatment of special needs children in the public schools. The report was shocking and should be a matter of national concern.

"Special needs children" are those diagnosed with a variety of disabilities and are placed in classes designed to improve their opportunities for learning. Among the disabilities are such things as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism, various learning disabilities, mental illness and children with limited intellectual capacity.

The classes in which these children are grouped are lead by teachers who are supposed to have special training in dealing with these types of children. Howeve, in order to minimize the stigma of being in a separate type of class, these children are often main streamed into classes for average children.

One of the hall marks of many of these children is difficulty controlling themselves. Many autistic and hyperactive children move around a lot and find it difficult to focus their attention on tasks. As a result, teachers find these kids to be very disruptive whether they are in a main streamed or special education class.

What is shocking about the report released by the GAO is the fact that, nationwide, these disabled children are  being harshly disciplined so that there have even been some deaths. For example, one child was held down by the teacher, finally died of suffocation. Other children are handcuffed, placed in restraints, exiled to time out rooms for hours at a time and ridiculed by their adult supervisors. The time out rooms were meant to serve as a place where a child can get some respite for a brief period while they regain self control. Instead, they are being locked into the room for several hours at a time.

Amazingly, there are no federal laws governing the behavior of these teachers. I am aware of one case that happened in Florida this past winter (2009) in which a teacher was sued by the family for child abuse but was found innocent and released.

Evidently, the Florida case is not unusual so that the accused teachers end up returning to their classrooms.

My Opinion of why this happens:

In my opinion, based on years of experience dealing with the public schools, special education teachers are not specially trained to cope with and help these kids. There are school systems around the country that utilize teaching methods based on psychological research that are successful in handling special needs children. One of them is the Lehigh School system in Pennsylvania. However, with few exceptions, special education is a neglected aspect of education in most places.

As a result, many of these children drop out of school by the time they reach the Middle and High School years. By that time, they have soaked up the self image that they are "bad and hopeless," join the ranks of other damaged kids and become involved in alcohol, drug abuse and anti social activities. In the end, society pays the cost of neglect because so many of these youngsters become criminals and enter the prison system. If public funds were used to properly train special education teachers to provide programs that help these child overcome their problems the cost would be minimal because we would not need so many prisons.

This is a matter of deep concern to any parent of a special needs child. It should be a matter of concern to every person. There needs to be a huge public outcry against this problem.

Your comments and questions are encouraged about this important issue.

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, PhD

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