Putting Child in Box May Be OK in Some Cases: District

Mom says her special needs son was put in a cabinet and then a box to calm him down

By Patrick Healy
|  Wednesday, Feb 29, 2012  |  Updated 3:09 AM PDT
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The mother of a boy with asperger's syndrome --an autism spectrum disorder --is filing a claim against the Lake Elsinore Unified School District after she says her son was forced to stay in a box in his mainstream classroom. Patrick Healy reports the district defended the practice as a way to get the child to calm down.

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The mother of a boy with asperger's syndrome --an autism spectrum disorder --is filing a claim against the Lake Elsinore Unified School District after she says her son was forced to stay in a box in his mainstream classroom. Patrick Healy reports the district defended the practice as a way to get the child to calm down.

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The mother of a fourth grade special needs student has filed a claim for damages after her son was made to spend quiet time in a classroom cabinet and, later, in a cardboard box brought in for that purpose.

Whether it was improper for a teacher to have a special needs student spend quiet time in a classroom cardboard box has not been determined by the Lake Elsinore Unified School District.

There are circumstances when such a technique may be permissible, according to a district spokesman.

"A special needs child put in a box is just — I cannot comprehend that," said Kim Rollins, whose son is diagnosed with Asperger's, a syndrome on the mild end of the autistic spectrum.

Sage Rollins, 10, attends class with mainstream students at Ronald Reagan Elementary School in the southwest Riverside County community of Wildomar.

Compartmentalizing a student in the classroom may be an appropriate way to help a child susceptible to sensory overload, said Mark Dennis, spokesman for the Elsinore school district.

"It's called a sensory diet, and there are many varieties of adaptations to create a calm environment. A box can be used. A desk with a blanket. A tent. These can all be used inside a classroom," Dennis said, adding that at least one teacher supply catalogue carries a product called the B-Calm Hideaway, a small box-like play area.

Sage's mother said she first became aware of the box when her son spoke up about taking some scissors to school to cut a hole in it.

Rollins said she learned from her son that his teacher had designated the classroom closet for his quiet time before bringing the box to the classroom. Rollins said her son told her sometimes he went to the box on his own but that twice she ordered him there.

"I would never justify that," said psychologist Ron Leaf, PhD, a founding director of the Autism Project, which provides consulting services to school districts.

Even though some children with Asperger's crave quiet time, Leaf said there are better solutions
than relegating them to a box and exposing them to ridicule from fellow students.

An investigation by the Riverside Sheriff's Department found no evidence of a crime. The teacher remains on paid leave pending the outcome of the district's investigation.

After learning of the box, Rollins said she removed her son from Reagan Elementary for a few days. But he has since returned to class, with a new teacher.

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