I’m writing today to discuss my thoughts on some troubling news that has come to my attention recently. On November 19th, ProPublica Illinois wrote a piece on the use of Quiet Rooms as a behavioral intervention (click here for the article). Quiet Rooms are when children are put into isolation rooms to help him/her de-escalate behaviors. 19 states have discontinued this practice and Illinois ranked first in total use back in a 2013 study conducted by the US Department of Education. After reading this article and my own personal experiences with this type of intervention, I have and will do everything in my power to stop this barbaric treatment of children.
Let me make a major distinction here; the use of isolation is not the same thing as a sensory room often used for children and adults on the autism spectrum. Some of you have reached out to my office and are confusing the two, and I feel I should take a moment to define terms. Individuals with autism are very sensitive to the environment around them. Loud noises, bright lights and big crowds can be very overwhelming. The use of a sensory room helps control overstimulation and allows the individual to decompress through quiet, soft lighting, comfortable seating and the use of fidgets. These rooms are proving to be so successful and effective that some professional sports teams are building these into stadiums.
On the other hand. Isolation rooms are, in theory, used to help calm an individual down through separation and reflection. Except these rooms can often act as a form of torture to an individual in crisis. Trust me, I know first-hand how painful being isolated can be. My childhood was very difficult. I was diagnosed with ADHD at a time where people still didn’t quite understand the disorder. There were many interventions used including isolation timeouts in a locked closed space. I am 45-years old and still have nightmares because of this treatment.
Due to my challenges, I was already ostracized by my peers. Getting invited to birthday parties and playdates was a rare occurrence. My life was isolation. In response to my challenges, I would be locked into a small room. I can recall every detail from the smell, lighting and texture of the carpeted walls. There was a small window on the door. One constituent who contacted us through social media shared that he still has scars on his knuckles from punching the carpeted walls because panic had set in. This treatment was, and continues to be, beyond cruel. We isolate criminals instead of using the death penalty. Think about that for a second; we use the same intervention on children that’s used on our worst criminals.
I very rarely talk about my past because it is very painful for me to do so. Simply writing this blog post, and recollecting my past experiences is giving me anxiety. Isolation was my personal Hell. I begged my parents to take me out of that school and when they did, it changed my life. My struggles didn’t go away, but I learned better coping strategies without having to be isolated. Thank goodness I was one of the lucky ones. Others are not so fortunate. It was my experience with this that helped shape my decision to become a Special Education teacher, and make sure that future students are not subjected to this kind of treatment. Now, as a legislator, I am working on a bill to ensure this practice stops entirely in our state.
I am drafting legislation to stop this practice in Illinois. It is a battle I must and will fight. No child should ever be isolated when he or she is in crisis. When around 40% of states already recognize how this treatment is wrong, hearing that Illinois uses this more than any other state is horrific. There will be opposition to my efforts, but I’ll be ready. To the 12-year old boy who’s still inside of me dealing with this pain, I will do everything in my power to not have others feel the same way.