By Teresa Smith, Postmedia News
A Toronto boy’s mother is threatening legal action after her nine-year-old autistic son was handcuffed by police at his daycare.
Police used handcuffs to restrain a nine-year-old mentally challenged boy who they say “became uncontrollable” at a Toronto daycare centre in July.
Autism Canada says the incident, which involved a boy with Asperger syndrome, highlights the need for federal guidelines to regulate how daycare facilities handle children with mental illness.
Toronto police Const. Victor Kwong said the boy, who in addition to Asperger syndrome, is also diagnosed with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, became angry in the daycare’s lunchroom when other children were bullying him and calling him names.
“What teachers say is that he became uncontrollable,” said Kwong.
A daycare worker, fearing for the boy’s safety and that of the other children, called police after the boy barricaded himself in an empty classroom and
started throwing around chairs, tables and paint.
Kwong said, when officers arrived on the scene, they asked the boy to lay down on the floor on his stomach, and put him in handcuffs. He said the boy was only in handcuffs for about five minutes, after which he calmed down and was chatting with police about his hobbies. “When he left, he hugged the officers and the nurse,” said Kwong who stood by the officers’ decision to cuff the boy. “This worked. He listened,” said Kwong.
There are reports the boy’s mother is considering legal action.
Peter Frampton, the executive director of the Learning Enrichment Foundation which runs the daycare, said, although the staff is trained in “appropriate
interventions,” the foundation doesn’t have enough workers to properly care for children on the extreme end of the autism spectrum.
He said those children should be in a smaller facility with at least one caregiver for every five children, rather than in a “standard childcare centre”
which, in accordance with the Day Nurseries Act of Ontario, has one childcare worker for every 15 kids.
The problem, according to Frampton, is funding. He said there needs to be “appropriate budgets in place to support delivery of these services to the people who need it.”
Frampton said the July incident was the first time the daycare has asked police to intervene.
Laurie Mawlam, spokeswoman for Autism Canada, said the shortages are countrywide. “If they had more money, there would always be staff around to help,” she said.
Mawlam said autism and Asperger syndrome differ because autism is a three-fold disease that includes language problems, social difficulties and repetitive behaviour, whereas Asperger syndrome is a social disorder. She said children with Asperger syndrome are “a little odd” and “often have trouble making friends.”
“I think of that poor kid . . . it’s probably not the first time he’s been bullied,” she said. “No wonder he was ready to blow.”
Mawlam, whose son has autism, said she tried “only once” to put him in daycare. “When I came to get him two hours later, he was hysterical. . . . I never
tried that again.”
But, she acknowledges that most parents can’t afford to stay home full-time with their child, or pay for private care.
At the moment, Mawlam said most families asking for government support for special services at home are on waiting lists. “People are lucky to get $2,500 a year,” she said. “That doesn’t begin to cover a fraction of average costs,” she said.
That’s why Autism Canada helped craft a bill in the Commons — introduced on June 15, 2011 by New Democrat MP Glenn Thibeault — asking the federal government to develop a comprehensive National Autism Spectrum Disorder Strategy to study, in co-operation with provincial governments, “the funding arrangements for the care of those with autism spectrum disorders, including the possibility of transferring federal funds to assist the provincial governments in providing treatment, education, professional training and other required supports for Canadians with autism spectrum disorders free of charge and within a reasonable period of time.”
In addition to a national strategy, Autism Canada is asking that money spent on treatments and services for a family member with ASD be recognized as a medical deduction on the family’s federal tax return.
In the short term, Mawlam said daycare workers and parents should work together to develop a program for each individual child.
“The parents should tell the daycare workers what’s likely to set the child off, and what strategies they can use to calm the child down,” she said.
“If everyone, instead of pointing the finger, looked at what they could do better, we could focus on the child at the centre of this storm.”
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