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A local authority and a community special school are facing legal action on behalf of two autistic pupils over the use of a ‘calm room’ to manage their behaviours.
Law firm Leigh Day, which is acting for the claimants, said the pupils were allegedly ‘detained’ in the room at Abbey Hill School in Stoke on Trent for “for prolonged periods, where they defecated and urinated and showed other signs of considerable stress and anxiety”.
The claimants are now at alternative specialist autism centres.
In a letter to the school, Leigh Day claimed the two pupils had been “subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment and that the use of the ‘calm room’ for extended periods, without appropriate safeguards in place, was an unlawful act as it deprived pupils of their liberty”.
Merry Varney, a lawyer in the human rights team at Leigh Day said: “Although the use of seclusion and ‘calm rooms’ are recognised, positive tools to use to assist autistic children, these must be used appropriately with effective safeguards in place to prevent inappropriate use.
“Our clients appear to have been placed regularly in a very small room, with little natural light, sparse furniture, and no ability to leave, for an hour or more at a time. Rather than having any calming effect, the periods of seclusion led to significantly increased distress and deterioration in our clients’ behaviour.”
Varney added that the parents had not been informed at the time of the extent of the use of ‘calm room’.
Stoke have been approached for comment. A spokesman for Stoke said: “The allegations concern the use of the quiet room at the school and only relate to two pupils who left the school in 2012. The quiet room has not been used for more than 12 months. This matter is now the subject of legal discussions and it is not appropriate to comment further.”
One of LDAS's members has won a very important award for their work on harassment and bullying. There were winners of the 2014 Frances Nelson MBE Awards in Tayside.
Us and Housing are a group of people with learning disabilities who came together in June 2011 at a conference to discuss housing issues. The conference showed that people suffered daily discrimination which led to group to work with Perth & Kinross Council to produce an educational DVD and learning resources to challenge injustice and inequality. The DVD titled ‘It Goes On and On and On’ is a series of short dramas that explore and expose the discrimination faced by people with learning disabilities. A clip from the DVD can be viewed on the TIS website at www.tis.org.uk.
Hate Crime—Still A Problem
LDAS is taking part in a working group along with Police Scotland a number of other voluntary organisations and users groups that looks at Hate Crime against people with learning disabilities.
Some useful initiatives include the Safe Places system which signs up local shops to provide a place for people being bullied to go and wait safely till the threat has passed.
Others include new training and response information for Police Officers on the beat designed by Cornerstone.
3rd party reporting is another initiative that has been going for some time. While Police Scotland have taken big steps to become more approachable, some people are still wary about going to them directly. They worry that they might not be able to explain themselves and may get into trouble over other matters. Voluntary organisations and other services offer help to people from different minority groups to tell their story to a sympathetic ear and then to inform the police in a safe and secure way.
A couple of years ago new legislation was passed which made it possible for those who attack people with learning disabilities to be treated more seriously. However the failure of the police or the Procurator Fiscal's office to use this legislation makes us wonder if it is any more than just window dressing.
BBC Scotland reports that ""Two teenage girls carried out a prolonged ""degrading"" assault on a vulnerable young man Arbroath Sheriff Court has heard Paige Sharp 16 and Danielle Sinclair 17 admitted assaulting the 21-year-old man who suffered from learning difficulties. Read the story here.
The intensity, nature and duration of their attack indicates that the girls knew they were attacking someone with learning disabilities and took advantage of this. Yet they have not been charged under the new law and will get lighter sentences as a result.
A survey by Mencap of people with a learning disability has found that nearly nine out of ten respondents have experienced bullying in the last year. Two-thirds are bullied on a regular basis and almost one-third are suffering from bullying on a daily or weekly basis. People with a learning disability face prejudice and widespread discrimination that often makes them feel like outcasts and prevents them from taking a full part in society.
Public attitudes in the United Kingdom towards people with a learning disability remain discriminatory. The Mencap survey suggests that the bullying of people with a learning disability is institutionalised throughout society.
Nearly nine out of ten people (88%) with a learning disability reported being bullied within the last year. Living In Fear demonstrates that people with a learning disability are targeted as they form a vulnerable section of society. As a direct consequence of their disability they experience intolerable levels of discrimination in the form of bullying. The bullying of people with a learning disability is also distinguished by the regular and ongoing nature of the act. People with a learning disability are often lifelong victims. Two-thirds of people (66%) said that they had been bullied regularly (more than once a month) with 32% stating that bullying was taking place on a daily or weekly basis. For almost a third of respondents most days bring another encounter with bullying. Simple activities such as leaving the house walking to work or catching a bus to the shops are often upsetting and distressing experiences. Often bullying is carried out so frequently that the victim is able to identify the perpetrator. The effect of regular bullying can be devastating. Being called a name may appear trivial in itself but it can assume a greater significance when it happens all the time to the same person. Such intimidation constantly impinges on the daily lives of people with a learning disability. It reinforces negative feelings of being isolated and different.
'I get called stupid and teased all the time. Children follow me every day and call me names, threaten to kill me in the street and at the centre'.
Female 40 Glasgow
'I face bullying all the time. People at the day centre call me names and threaten me the bus driver told me to get off the bus. Sometimes when I'm out people laugh at me because of my disability and shop keepers are rude if they can't understand me or if I take time sorting out my money'
Female 48 London
'On my way home I have to pass by the youth centre and am called names by young people. This happens everyday from Monday to Friday and gets worse in the school holidays as they're around all day and all night'
Male 32 Manchester