I'll Tell You Where You Can Shove Those Vinegar-Soaked Cotton Balls

Posted by: , October 12, 2011 in 12:34 pm


cotton ballsThe National Autism Association (NAA) sent out a press release yesterday alleging that a public elementary school in Texas has been putting vinegar-soaked cotton balls in the mouths of autistic children as “aversives.” 

Parents are also alleging that the school required the autistic children, some of whom are nonverbal, to get on a classroom treadmill (ostensibly there for exercise breaks) and go faster and longer than they wanted to.

An aversive intervention is a negative consequence used to train kids, much like hitting a dog with a newspaper.

This allegedly happened to multiple students at Exley Elementary School in Katy, TX, part of the Katy Independent School District (ISD).

Aside from the obvious jump my mind takes from the word vinegar to the thought that school is run by douchebags, I have nothing funny to say about this. I’m just sad and angry.

Katy, TX, is just two towns over from where I lived in Texas.  It’s a relatively affluent town, and it’s considered one of the best school districts in the Houston area.  It’s also considered one of the best for special needs students.  After Little Dude was diagnosed, I had multiple experts (including the neurologist who diagnosed Little Dude), recommend the Katy ISD to our family.

Let me be clear: Katy, TX is not some back woods, rural town.  It’s a low-crime Houston suburb with a really nice mall.

NAA I'll Tell You Where You Can Shove Those Vinegar Soaked Cotton Balls

NAA board member Leslie Phillips spoke to the Katy ISD school board on Monday night, and asked school district officials to insert vinegar-soaked cotton balls into their mouths.  There were no takers on the request.

In the press release, NAA Executive Director Lori McIlwain says that aversive interventions are used in schools across the United States, and include “withholding food and water, lemon spray to the eyes, force feeding, sensory exploitation, shaving cream to the mouth, peppers to the mouth – these are just some of the assaults that have been used on schoolchildren as a failed means to control behavior.”

Ms. McIlwain continued, “Positive behavioral interventions have been proven successful, there is no excuse for aversives in our schools.”

Um, yeah.  The water thing.  Remember that?  I wrote on my blog last year that water was withheld from the Peanut Butter Kid’s entire grade (first grade) because they were too loud at recess.  (See my post, Water, Water Everywhere for my suggested punishments to the teachers involved.)  And then there was the time that Cookie was denied medical treatment.

vinegar I'll Tell You Where You Can Shove Those Vinegar Soaked Cotton Balls
Again, who knew it needed a warning?
“Notice to school personnel: Vinegar is for salad dressing,
cleaning windows, and making Easter eggs.
Not for punishing children.”
So, sadly, I am not surprised that these things happened.  I’m pretty sure the difference between the Katy ISD and the one where my children attended school in Texas is that the Katy ISD parents complained.  (I was the only parent who complained about water being withheld from the first graders.)  And parent complaining is good.  I’m not saying you should whine and nag and complain about stupid stuff, but when your child is denied basic care or subjected to treatment that is unsafe and degrading, parents need to step up.  That is how change happens.
Please don’t think that because you don’t live in a Houston suburb, or that because your child goes to a “good school,” that this isn’t happening.  You have to ask.

Because guess what?  The parents of these special needs children did not expect that something like this would happen at their “good school,” any more than I thought my child would ever be denied water.

Whether you have special needs children or not, ask your school how discipline is handled.  Ask if your school promotes positive behavioral interventions, or aversive interventions.  If your school uses aversives, ask specifically what aversives are used.  Then tell your school district officials that aversive interventions are not okay with you, and that it is not appropriate discipline.

katytx I'll Tell You Where You Can Shove Those Vinegar Soaked Cotton Balls
What’s going in your town?

Parents of autistic children who need support on this topic can contact the National Autism Association.  You might also want to check out their special safety website http://www.autismsafety.org/, which covers important topics such as restraint and seclusion, bullying, wandering, and suicide prevention.


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