Thursday, October 3, 2013

Seclusion as punishment

When I was in second grade, my teacher left me in the basement, under the stairs because I was "disruptive".   She told me to "Be quiet and wait." Except she forgot about me all day, so I sat there under the stairs, crying and traumatized and wondering if I'd ever be able to leave.  Because I was 7 years old, I did not understand that I would be able to eventually leave.  And because I have always taken everything that people say literally, and she told me I could not leave until she came to get me, I was sure that I would never see my parents or sisters again.

Because five hours to a 7 year old child who is afraid and is a literal thinker is more like a lifetime.   I sat there crying, and hitting my head against the wall.

I was "disruptive", meaning I cried in class because I didn't understand instructions, because the lights hurt my eyes, because everyone was too loud, because she grabbed my wrist when I wouldn't spell something out loud in class (selective mutism), because my anxiety level in school was always at a ten.   When she finally remembered me, I was yelled at for not saying anything to anyone the entire day about being left under the stairs.   Even though she told me to be quiet.  Literal thinking, remember?

It was torture.

The "behaviors" that caused me to be secluded under the stairs were crying and noncompliance.  I was crying because I was afraid.  I was noncompliant because I was afraid.

 Let me say that again:

  I was afraid. 


I was punished for being afraid by putting me in a situation that made me even more afraid.

Do you see how that works?

It doesn't.

Because you can't punish "behaviors".  Especially when you don't understand the root cause of the behavior.  Part of presuming competence from your child is knowing that they are doing the best they can.  They are children.  It's the adult's job to give them the tools to succeed that they may be lacking.   I was doing the best that I knew how to do in an extremely hostile sensory and social environment.  No adult took the time to ask me WHY I was crying (I did not understand instructions).  WHY I never spoke (I was intimidated and afraid of other children).  WHY I threw up every day (headaches from the bright lights), or WHY I hit my head or had other SIB's (extreme social anxiety/sensory overload).  No one ever asked me why or even attempted to figure out why I had behaviors.  They just needed to fix them.

What a difference some understanding would have made.

Behavior is communication.  I say this all the time to anyone who will listen.

Behavior.  Is.  Communication.

I will continue to say it until I am out of breath, if it helps just one less child from being punished and traumatized for being scared and confused.  For having a brain that is wired differently from the majority.  

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