by Autistics for Autistics: Self-advocacy in Canada
Across Canada, elementary school children in special education programs are being grabbed and restrained by adults, then pushed into small, locked, solitary confinement rooms as a form of punishment. These are often called “seclusion rooms”.
Seclusion rooms should be banned. They cause trauma, escalate problems in the classroom and deeply impact quality of life for every student, as well as many staff, who quit due to the trauma of witnessing restraint and seclusion.
There are proven alternatives to seclusion rooms. Yet there are currently not even any reasonable guidelines for seclusion or restraint in Canadian schools.
We want to change that. We are working with parents and community members to create a ban on all seclusion rooms in public schools, with stringent guidelines for the laying of hands on any child in any classroom, including the special education classroom. In the United States, many districts and states have now banned the use of seclusion rooms.
Canada: it’s time.
10 FACTS about isolation (seclusion) rooms in Canada
- Victims are young. The typical age is between 5 to 8 years old.
- Victims are vulnerable. Most students forced into seclusion rooms are disabled.
- Victims are marginalized. Students of colour are disproportionally targeted for seclusion rooms.
- Seclusion is kept secret from families. Many parents were not told that their child was put in an isolation room. Often, a bystander is the first to tell parents.
- No one is watching. Most special education classrooms don’t allow parents to enter during class time—and staff unions have fought against the use of nanny cams.
- Districts don’t keep records of seclusion. For decades, parents have been asking districts to keep records of every incident of seclusion—yet most do not.
- There are better ways. Peaceful alternatives are proven to work, but most Canadian school districts have not invested in the training.
- Some schools call their isolation rooms “calming rooms”. Sometimes they will even claim students want to go into these rooms. This is a lie, designed to cover up abuse.
- It’s not calming and it’s not safe. Being locked in isolation is terrifying and causes PTSD and cPTSD.
- Seclusion rooms should be banned in Canadian classrooms. Seclusion rooms harm the most vulnerable children in our society. There is no excuse for abuse.
How can this be happening?
When people first learn about seclusion rooms in schools, they are usually shocked and outraged. How can this be happening here? We share your outrage, but as autistic people we are not surprised. Seclusion rooms are part of a behaviourist system of special education that harkens back to the 1950s with Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).
Put simply, Canada is stuck in the past. It’s up to our policymakers and educators to catch up with new ways of doing special education and stop the violence. Disabled children should not be viewed as objects, but as people with rights—the same rights other children are entitled to.
Help us end seclusion rooms and change our society’s approach to autism. To learn more, email us at the contact below.
For information about the movement to end seclusion rooms in US schools, visit The Alliance Against Seclusion and Restraint at endseclusion.org
2019: Alberta bans seclusion rooms after parents file a lawsuit (CBC)
2019: Alberta rescinds its ban on seclusion rooms in schools (Edmonton Journal)
2020: The Bartlett Report outlines the problem in Canada (CBC)
2022: Yukon parents file a class action (CBC)
2022: Ontario family goes public to InSauga Magazine
2022: New Brunswick family goes public on W5 National
2023: Shocking statistics from Alberta (CBC)
2023: Quebec parents go public on CTV National