Wednesday, September 28, 2011

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

Must we put warnings on everything? 
"Notice to school personnel: cotton balls are not a food."
The 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 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.

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. 

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, which covers important topics such as restraint and seclusion, bullying, wandering, and suicide prevention.


  1. jennie-mommy of autistic princessSeptember 28, 2011 at 12:34 PM

    three letters----WTF?!?!?!?!?!?! how did they think that this would be ok?!

  2. speechless, and sad. And definitely asking if my school uses aversives for any student.

  3. I would be suing these monsters sooooooo effing fast! How dare they even consider this??!? Makes me mad and sad.

  4. I sent this article to the President of Texas PTA. There should be clear legislation that says this is ILLEGAL! They would be an excellent organization to lobby for this in Austin.

  5. My youngest is in a special needs program that relies on positive reinforcement/rewards. The district policy for children receiving services is that they are excluded from standard discipline and that no discipline may be imposed without parental involvement and consent. If I found out a teacher or para-educator imposed aversive methodology on my son I would have grave difficulty controlling my behavior in response. What they did at Katy ISD is unconscionable. Is there any word about possible pending charges of child endangerment or abuse? At least tell me they've fired the teachers involved.

  6. My sister in law took her kids out of school in Texas because they wouldn't give kids water to drink. "It makes them disrupt class too much because they have to go pee too often." That was the excuse they gave for dehydrating kids.

  7. Okay. . . i totally misread your paragraph as indicating Ms. Phillips was the person who suggested the aversive be used on the children.

    When I looked into it further, I see now that she suggested to the school board that they try it out on themSELVES to see what it was they were subjecting the kids to. . .

    I was all filled with righteous wrath and ready to smite Ms. Phillips.

  8. Aversives do not work. All they do is create fear. And many times, they are cruel. The adults (aka idiots) need to ask themselves if THEY want to receive the aversive punishment. No? WELL NEITHER DO THE KIDS.

    Positive Behavior Support! It's not that hard!

  9. I can't believe I just read this! We live in Katy, and THE reason we moved here was because of the reputation of the special ed services in the Katy ISD! My four year old is in a PPCD program at a different elementary school, but you can bet I am going to ask about this TODAY!

  10. I live in Katy. My 10yo with an educational classification of Asperger's goes to public school here. it's a good district, with a great reputation for being special-ed friendly. And I know Leslie. She's very active in Katy's support group.

    1. Please don't smite Leslie. Mrs. Phillips. She's on our side. :)

    2. Exley has had trouble earlier this year, twins with autism were coming home with unexplained bruises.

    3. The DA is looking into this.

  11. DiVaughn, as a newcomer to Katy who bought a home specifically to be in this district, I can't tell you how disturbing this is. Do you know if any other schools have had problems? Mine is at BHE's PPCD program.

  12. 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.

    Let me just be clear in saying that I do NOT agree with the behavior modification techniques expressed in this article. However, I also do not agree with your idea that rural schools are somehow riddled with this kind of problem while affluent suburban neighborhoods with nice malls should know better. Here in the backwoods, we love our children, too.

  13. BHE happens to be sister schools with our elementary. It was actually recommended that we try to move to that zone when we got here 2 years ago, based on who the principal was. Katy likes to move the principals around, though.

    These cases were older kids, (i.e. not PPCD) non-verbal, and in a self-contained classroom. My best advice is to know who is working with your kids and make sure they know you. Volunteer for the parent/teacher organization, bring snacks to ARDs, offer to help out in the classroom, etc. Be involved!

    Ironically, we moved here from a "rural" district. We had 4 elementary schools, Katy has 32. Our principal was fantastic (I'm still Facebook friends with him) and bent over backwards for all of his students, regardless of disability. This type of "punishment" would not have been allowed in his school.

  14. My son is Autistic in the Katy ISD school system and this is appalling! I have shared it with just about everyone I know. I even talked to my son's PPCD teacher who was unaware of this going on within the district. I will be drafting a letter this evening with my husband to be sent to the administration at our school. They need to know that we will not accept this type of behavior.

  15. I am PHYSICALLY ILL and in TEARS at this story. It's just so incredibly barbaric and just plain WRONG! Please, tell us what we can do to get this on the front page of every paper, in the news...... Because my fear right now as I write this is - this is the school that's doing this sort of thing that WE KNOW ABOUT. There have to be more...........we have to stop them. Tell us how.........

  16. these people are just sick in the head i would have forced them to suck vinegar soaked cotton balls.

  17. To clarify. . . I have no intention of smiting anyone at this time. Standing down. . .

  18. Jesus, I am completely appalled. Hell I got up in the principal's business at my son's elementary school when I found out his teacher was sending kids back to kindergarten for the day as punishment. I refused to believe that doing so wasn't incredibly disruptive to my son's class as well as the kindergarten or that his teacher couldn't find a better tool. I can't imagine how ballistic I would go if something like this happened in my kids' school. Unacceptable.

  19. *sigh* Reason #345035979 why I home school. Even if it's not supported by the administration, there will always be teachers who try to sneak nasty punishments in. Toxic teachers are pro-level practitioners of being passive-aggressive, too. And most of the time? Oh, it's supported by the administration. They'll TELL you it's not, and that they're as shocked as anybody, but by and large any school administration supports any disciplinary tactic that: 1)keeps kids quiet, and 2)doesn't generate many parent complaints. Therefore, I keep my kids home, and the only Crazy they're consistently subjected to is mine. Clearly, mine is kind of an extreme solution, but I saw enough just with the school open houses.

  20. See...this is where the problem is with this situation. I'd end up in jail and my son without his mother because God forbid this happens to him there's no way I could control my own behavior. I would be using an aversive they perhaps had never thought of. My hands on their necks. They'd be begging for some vinegar soaked cotton balls compared to the super sized can of ass whoop I'd open up on them. Child Abuse. Plain and simple. If these things had been done to NT children the PTA would be up in arms. Because it's our children some assholes will be getting their wrists slapped. And here I thought this abuse only happened in Florida. (sorry, couldn't help it)

  21. I cannot ever imagine a situation in which this type of discipline would be appropriate. I'd say it's abuse.

  22. This makes me so sick and I would be with @lori80s on this- would go off.. I had NO idea any of this was happening, from cotton balls to lemon water in the eyes to withholding water.. SICK and ABUSIVE.. I really hope exposing this removes all involved from any and all positions- they have no business being around children.
    I agree being involved is the only key to advocate for your child (or other kids in need you see this happening to)..

    My son w/ Aspergers was grossly mistreated in class in front of other students by his teacher the first week of 2nd grade.. When I called his teacher on it 2 days later (told the principal that day) in the IEP in front of 6 supporting staff/admin. members it was incredible.. He was shamed/scolded as he should be, lost his macho crap damn quick.. Bottom line is ALWAYS listen to your children and watch what goes on.. They need us to speak for them and sadly shit like this goes on..

  23. This is absolutely heartbreaking and sick. I have a son on the spectrum, and I am a teacher. I have NEVER heard of this sort of thing happening. I can not imagine what sort of idiot would try this type of aversion therapy. I sincerely hope the parents take legal action.

  24. This seriously just made me cry. How a school could think that treatment of children in a way that could get CPS called on a parent is OK because "it's teaching" is ludicrous. It makes me sad, angry, disappointed, and shocked, all at the same time. Good for those parents who spoke up!

    Coffee Fueled Family

  25. I think coffee fueled mama gave an awesome rule of thumb. If it would make CPS raise their eyebrows, DON'T DO IT!!! I believe that discipline involves both positive and negative consequences, but they have to be appropriate - both for the action and the child. My 4yo wouldn't understand if you took away recess because he was too noisy in class. But you can take away the toy he just threw. And he can sit apart from the group for a couple minutes after hitting one of his classmates. Reasonable expectations and logical consequences!

    BTW, I've seen enough of my 4yo pre-K teachers to know that they are nothing short of awesome. They are easy-going, and he LOVES going to school!

  26. Nice. I can understand frustration with dealing with the less compliant of kids. But this kind of idiot idea is unreal. But, sadly, very real. Has it come to the point where the word "unreal" is not even applicable to situations anymore? It seems like everything horrendous is a possibility now...

    Agree with kitchen pixie...this is one of many reasons we homeschool. Cause me finding out someone did this to my kid would probably not end well for them....

  27. Sickening....
    I work in a school for students with multiple disabilities... many of my students are on the spectrum in addition to other diagnoses.

    Its a small, very small school. In a bad city.

    And guess what?
    As small and not "up to date" with fancy things as we may be -- parents fight their local districts to stay with us because of our #1 priority -- LOVE.
    cheesy to say but sometimes the crappier the place may look the better the heart of the workers...

    those poor kiddos.

  28. When my ASD son was being punished last year (made to walk back and forth along the playground fence in front of his classmates) for inattention to classwork, I complained vigorously to the principal. She defended the practice 100%, and said I was wrong to think this punishment was used to shame and humiliate. She said the punishment was designed for double duty: the kid receives his punishment, but doesn't have to miss out on getting some fresh air. Win/win! She also said, "You have to find the line between autism and manipulation," and something along the lines of, "Just because a child has special needs does not mean he shouldn't be punished like everybody else." We fought all last year to make them stop punishing, especially for issues that were not only minor, but actually a result of my son's disability. The principal and classroom teacher both disagreed with our assertion that the punishments were inappropriate (their defense: "It's working!"). And like the Katy school, ours is a "great" school in a "great" district.

    @Mrs E: I have been told that some "high poverty" schools can be good places for kids with ASD, because the teachers are generally there because they want to make a difference/help kids, and the teachers and administrators are used to teaching a wide range of kids from a wide range of backgrounds with a wide range of cultural and behavioral differences. Come out to the 'burbs where I live and there is almost no tolerance for kids not in lockstep with expectations.

  29. My daughter is non-verbal and lacks a good mode of communication. This is the kind of story that leaves me terrified.

  30. I have a 4 year old that isn't very verbal. Heads would roll if this were to have happened to my child. I have been showing up at board meetings now and am really active in our district now. My kid may not have a voice but I AM his voice and it will be loud!

  31. Just another reason to add to the list of reasons we chose to homeschool our kids.

  32. I have an 8 yr old autistic son and let me tell you this makes me angry beyond words.

  33. That is so cruel. Who would think of something like that?

  34. OK, you've got me spitting mad again. Mad and sad and just Grrrrrrarghhhhhhh! That people, EDUCATED people - EDUCATORS! - actually think this is OK to do to kids? Is beyond appalling.

    I know there is a sadistic streak in all humans, it's part of the genome. And I know that autistic kids can be incredibly frustrating (mine sure can). But it is the responsibility of those in charge of our children to quell sadism and angry reactions by classmates and misguided teachers alike, to not let them act out sadistically. There are an amazing amount of dunderheads out there who have no idea what they are doing.

    For a supposedly civil society? This is barbaric. To not be able to see this as a harmful, immoral and unconscionable act of aggression toward our children? Shocking. Truly shocking.

    OK, I'll shut up now, because I could go on all day.

  35. "Aversive interventions" are perfectly legal, but whether they're moral, ethical, decent or humane is another matter. Inflicting pain, fear, and humiliation to control behavior ... Whose behaviors need to be controlled?

  36. This is just mind boggling to me how educators see this as an appropriate discipline technique!

  37. So, if a mom can be drug to court and found to be abusive and her child taken away for putting hot sauce in his mouth as discipline, how is it that THIS is acceptable? Know why? Because there are NO LAWS governing this in the school systems. This is how they get away with putting children in seclusion and that child dying and the teacher responsible is STILL TEACHING. This is a sick and twisted thing and if you don't scrutinize and pay attention, SRMM is right, this could be happening to YOUR child, disibility or not.


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