Daniel Gourlay was only five years old when he was first physically restrained at school by his teachers.
Now 12, and with a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder and Pathological Demand Avoidance (PDA) disorder, Daniel and his mum Barbara have lost count of the number of times the youngster has been held down, forcibly carried, locked in a room and on one occasion handcuffed. He was seven years old – too young and too small for the handcuffs to fit properly.
I knew that something wasn’t quite right with Daniel when he was about 18 months old. I have two older children and as a mum I just knew, but healthcare professionals made me feel like I was imagining things saying instead that he was going through the terrible twos or had separation anxiety. His dad died when he was five so it coincided with the trauma he felt then too – but still I knew and yet no one listened.
Eventually Daniel was diagnosed with autism and PDA, but not until he was nine-year-old by which time Barbara says he had been labelled as a ‘bad kid’ and a ‘lost cause’ at school and had been restrained and secluded by his teachers dozens of times.
Imagine giving up on a child of nine, or labelling them as a ‘lost cause’?
It’s difficult enough to be a apparent of a child with autism, but when you and your child are labelled as being ‘difficult’ people stop listening to you, they don’t treat you like a human being, like you’re worth anything. That’s what happened to Daniel. Teachers just stopped trying to use the techniques that we know work and calm him down and instead hit the nuclear button of restraint straight away.
I would say to any teacher who has held down a young child repeatedly, without making an effort to understand them and what they need in that moment, that they’re probably in the wrong job. How would you feel if it was your child? How would you feel if at the school gates each day they clung to you, too scared of what treatment they might get once they’re inside? Daniel used to tell me that it hurt when they held him. He said at one point, when he was around seven years old that he wanted to die to be with his daddy.
It’s heart breaking, especially when you know that it’s their human right to have an education, to feel safe and to feel that the adults around them care about them as an individual.
Barbara says that she is backing ENABLE Scotland’s campaign against the use of restraint and seclusion in schools because she doesn’t want any other family to have to go through what she and Daniel have experienced.
Daniel has been denied so many opportunities and that’s something that will affect his future. At one point he was only allowed into school for an hour at a time and had to sit in a room by himself – denied the chance to play, to make friends, to go on school trips. But we know that he can do those things.
Daniel has been in schools and has been taught by teachers who have made it work for him, who have treated him as an individual. He’s also been taught by those who haven’t taken this time or had the appropriate training and that’s where things go wrong. But if we know what works for a child, why would we not do what’s best for them, rather than ourselves.Restraint should be the very last resort and as we know it isn’t always the case, with hundreds of children experiencing the same things as Daniel every day.
Barbara also wants to see better reporting of incidents of restraint and seclusion by schools. She added:
There were times when Daniel was locked in a room or carried out of a classroom by four adults and the school didn’t tell me. I only found out because my older children reported seeing it or another parent contacted me to say their child had been distressed by the treatment they saw of Daniel by teachers and school staff. It’s just not right.