Inappropriate punishment?

A common problem that I have experienced in my children’s primary school is their inability to use appropriate discipline for autistic children.  The tendency to deliver group punishment or not to be seen disciplining a particular child is problematic for my autistic children.  If discipline is directed towards the whole group my children are so sensitive that they can feel that the discipline is directed towards them personally.  Coupled with their lack of understanding as to why they are being punished and an acute sense of injustice if they feel they haven’t done anything wrong, the effect of unnecessary punishment can be severe enough to provoke a meltdown. 

For my son, this approach to discipline was one of the triggers for his first episode of school refusal (my son is now longer in this school but in special school).  That was two years ago now and I was hoping the school (which my daughter still attends) had learnt how to discipline more effectively but it seems not.

On  Friday, which also happened to be the national Children In Need day, my aspergers daughter returned home from school complaining that it was the “worst day ever at school”.  It was particularly upsetting to see how sad she was as she had left for school that morning so excited at the prospect of getting involved with the  activities for Children In Need. 

Nevertheless, I asked her to explain what happened and it transpired that during a lesson another pupil was kicking her under the table and calling her names.  As a result my daughter stared out of the window at which point she was told by the class teacher that she would have to stay in and miss out on activities such as art and games.

I find it difficult to understand why staring out of the window should be punished in this way, particularly as my daughter has aspergers and processing difficulties.   My daughter gets little support in class and is unable to tell teachers her worries so not surprisingly she found her own way of coping with this stressful situation by staring out of the window. 

Her behaviour is not a deliberate way of avoiding work, as is clearly the assumption made by the teacher, and is everything to do with her autistic response to the stress she was experiencing at that moment.  Yet the teacher appeared to make no effort to find out why she was staring into space and just assumed she was being naughty.  Neither did the teacher properly explain to her what was going on.  This is sloppy teaching as far as I am concerned and not acceptable considering the school have plenty of written evidence about the nature of my daughter’s difficulties.

What is even crueller is that she was denied full participation of the day’s events, something that she was so looking forward to.  The academic nature of school is challenging for my daughter so non-academic opportunities are a welcome break for her which also provide her with opportunities to develop more practical skills.  To deny her this seems unnecessarily cruel and out of proportion o the offence of staring into space.

So yet again, I have sent another letter to the school outlining my concerns about the lack of understanding and support for my daughter.


This post is day 21 of the nablopomo challenge where I have to submit a blogpost every day in the month of November.

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6 Responses to Inappropriate punishment?

  1. Steph says:

    Sorry to hear this too. ‘Punishment’ of autistic children just doesn’t achieve anything, and that’s what most of those not living with it can’t even begin to understand. It’s very draining having to live with it AND try to help others understand too. How do we raise awareness? I keep wondering what I could be doing to ensure our school doesn’t react in this way as my girl gets older, but sadly I’m sure there will be times :(

  2. JuliesMum says:

    It’s so exhausting writing all these letters though, isn’t it? It sounds as if the teacher was losing it a bit if she punished your daughter in this way – not much consolation, but at least your letter should alert senior members of staff to look more closely at what is going on in her class.

  3. lucy says:

    Sadly, this kind of thing happens in special schools too. A teacher in the special school I worked at banned the autistic unit from assembly because they were ‘disruptive’. One child loved assembly so much, he used to squeal along to the songs – hardly a crime, but seen as unacceptable.
    Training days only help those willing to be open to the advice. Autism is seen as a behavioural disorder by so many, and is therefore dealt with by using harsh and inappropriate discipline techniques.
    I hate to always be so negative when I refer to my experience of working with children who have an ASD, there was, of course, much good work carried out. It’s just an indication of some peoples inability to learn and understand triggers which causes so much unnecessary hurt, and that affects children, parents and carers every day.

  4. Lizbeth says:

    I am so sorry. Your daughter must be crushed not to go to an event she was looking forward to. I have had similar situations at school trying to explain that it’s not OK to punish the whole table at lunch for talking too loudly. All the other kids get the punishment and move on pretty quickly but my son is so sensitive it’s the building block for a huge meltdown later. They sometimes just don’t get it. Sigh. I do hope it gets better.

  5. Jill says:

    Sounds familiar! It’s an issue of training. Whole school (teachers and support staff) should have regular sessions on autism. My daughter’s high school have this annually, but with the caveat that they should understand but leave dealing with her to the SEN team who know her best (passers-by saying “Cheer up”, while well-meaning, can often make matters worse!)

    I think your daughter responded brilliantly – she didn’t retaliate, she just used her coping strategy. Poor show that the teacher failed to recognise that.

  6. fiona says:

    I’m really sorry that your daughter had such a negative experience on Friday. The class teacher really should make an effort with any child, let alone a child with a disabiity to understand why a child is behaving in a particular manner. It really isn’t as if she was doing anything so bad in any case. She wasn’t disrupting the class or being rude to the teacher. Heavens, come to think of it if I had been disciplined so harshly for staring out of the window at school, I would have spent almost my entire education in trouble!!! I hope the letter recieves due attention and that the teacher will listen to you and your daughters concerns xxx

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