OPSEU Walks-Out On Autistic Children!

Warren “Smokey” Thomas, Curiously Named President of OPSEU

I wrote about OPSEU local 330’s labour dispute a few weeks ago, and how they were suggesting the use of riot gear against autistic children. Honestly, this was one of the most disturbing stories about the labour movement I’ve heard of in years. Well, it seems the problem is now getting worse…

In an escalation of the dispute, OPSEU Education Assistants have begun practising work-to-rule, and have walked-out of the classrooms. Are they kidding- do they not understand how very important it is for autistic kids to have a regular & predictable life schedule? Isn’t this bound to make things worse?

Well, it most certainly has. I’ve spoken with the parent of a child who has been affected by the walk-out, and they’ve told me that it has caused a serious amount of distress for their child. Unfortunately, the result was that the kid had to be hospitalized in order to recover from this extra stress!

There are so many things wrong with this story that I don’t even know where to begin. First, let’s approach the obvious- by disrupting the kid’s schedule things can’t possibly get better. If the EA’s had problems with students before the walkout, they will certainly have more once they try and get the kids back onto a regular schedule- won’t they?

OPSEU’s reasoning for the walkout was that three EA’s had been attacked over a period of five days.  One has to wonder about the EA’s level of competence- is this sort of frequency normal, or do they have a deficient level of expertise to turn this problem around?

OPSEU’s solution for unruly children…

Last night I spoke with two other parents of Autistic children who live outside of this school district. They told me that, occasionally, attacks do happen- but, it is not a regular occurrence. One parent told me they’d seen a problem like this before, but it was limited to a particular teacher who was not so good at their job.

Could this be part of the problem here?

I’ve been told that one of the key rules when trying to stop aggression in Autistic children is to minimize all opportunity for the issue to escalate. This means that the person working with the kid should watch them very closely for early signs of oncoming aggression and take remedial action as soon as it begins to appear.

Aggressive behaviour with Autistic kids is often part of a feedback loop where they feel rewarded by the attention they get. Knowing this, how could anyone imagine that pushing back at the kid with a martial-arts style blocker pad is ever going to provide a solution? Is this not painfully obvious?

There is something seriously wrong in this situation, and OPSEU appears to be pushing all the blame towards the children. I’ve read a dozen pieces of their communication on this matter, and have seen zero discussion on their part that the problem may even be partially as a result of the EA’s.

Now, I understand it is a union’s job to protect their members at all costs- that said, in this case, it seems criminally irresponsible to take this stance. If OPSEU, and their EA’s truly care about these kids, they should be demanding a 360 degree review of the problem at this school- including a deep look at the kids, the curriculum, the teaching environment, and the competence of the EA’s themselves.

The most reasonable strategy would be to bring-in an outsider with no connection to the union,  school, parents or EA’s…

Walking out, and demanding the use of riot gear (which can only escalate the issue) is a passive-aggressive form of assault on these kids. This is a shameful move that seriously puts OPSEU’s dedication towards these kids in-question. We must demand that they stop this behaviour immediately!

Strategies to Avoid Aggression With Autistic Children:

Evans provides a list of strategies to use as a parent or caretaker to help communicate with an autistic child; some of the key ones to remember are:

1. Provide a predictable environment and routine; the more structure, the better the child will do during their day.

2. Prepare the child ahead of time for any changes; children with autism do not adjust well to sudden changes in routine.

3. Keep distractions to a minimum; if you are trying to have a conversation, turn off the television.

4. Give simple and direct instructions to avoid frustration.

5. Give the child time to process instructions; children with autism need more time.

6. Visual aids work well with verbal and nonverbal autistic children; flash cards or picture boards (pictures of people eating, sleeping, reading, the bathroom) help the child communicate their need more quickly.

7. Provide a safe place for the child to go if they are struggling to cope with a decision or situation; this will allow them to calm down and avoid physically or verbally attacking anyone.

8. Before attempting to alter a behavior that you consider inappropriate, ask yourself what that behavior is for. By helping the child find better ways to get their needs met, they will be less likely to react with aggression.

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