Use of seclusion and restraint ‘common’ for autistic pupils, survey finds

Majority of public feel children should be helped as opposed to punished if they become stressed in class

The use of seclusion, restraint and shortened timetables are common experiences for autistic children at school, according to a new survey.

The findings are contained in a poll of more than 1,700 parents and carers of autistic young people, as well as autistic adults, conducted by autism charity AsIAm.

Overall, one-in-four parents represented in the report said that their child did not have a suitable school place.

It found that more than half of respondents did not find the education system to be inclusive of autistic children, with barriers such as a lack of special education teaching hours, non-inclusive school policies and codes of behaviour cited as issues.


The survey indicates that more than half (55 per cent) of children with autism have experienced seclusion from the classroom.

In addition, a minority (12 per cent) said their child had experienced physical restraint which they did not consent to or were concerned about, while almost a third of children (29 per cent) experienced a reduced timetable, or shorter school day, without the consent of the parent.

AsIAm said many of these practices – such as reduced timetables and seclusion – represent breaches of a child’s right to access an inclusive education under education legislation, as well as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

There is no official guidance for schools in relation to the use of seclusion and restraint, although the Department of Education is understood to be preparing this.

In relation to restraint, AsIAm said there has long been a need for more stringent regulation of all acts of physical intervention in schools, and for the end of the use of restraint.

Where a physical intervention is required in an emergency situation, the charity said it should only be administered by an appropriately trained staff member and require documentation, external oversight and at always comply with child protection guidelines.

The findings, contained in the AsIAm’s annual Same Chance report, represent what the charity says is the most comprehensive report on autism in Ireland.

It also contains a separate survey on attitudes towards autism among 1,000 members of the public, conducted by Core Research.

The findings indicate there is strong public support for inclusion in schools and across Irish society, reflected by a desire for stronger legislative supports (88 per cent).

However, this contrasts with responses given when respondents were presented with real-life scenarios across various aspects of life including the workplace, social gatherings and education.

For example, while a majority (80 per cent) believe that life should be inclusive, almost half (48 per cent) would feel a bit uncomfortable if they saw an adult pacing or rocking back and forth in a public place.

While four-out-of-five people want everyone to feel comfortable in the workplace, less than half (45 per cent) would find it “over the top” to have a work colleague ask for a picture of a meeting room in advance.

While almost everyone believes in clear communications, a majority (nearly 60 per cent) would feel uncomfortable interacting with someone who avoids eye contact.

Adam Harris, CEO of AsIAm, said the report highlights “huge gaps” between the aspirations the public have towards the autistic community and “harsh realities that autistic people live with each and every day”.

“While it is encouraging to see aspirations for greater inclusion continue to grow, the lived experiences for so many of our members do not match those aspirations. Moreover, Government policy does not support the autistic community. Much, much more needs to be done to genuinely see real improvement in the lives of autistic people throughout Ireland,” Mr Harris said.

The report also pointed to greater awareness of autism and a societal willingness to be inclusive.

Three-quarters of the public feel children should be helped as opposed to punished if they become stressed in a classroom, while four-out-of-five people are aware of autism as a diagnosis.

The vast majority of the public (80 per cent) believe life in Ireland should be inclusive, aided by the fact that more than half of people know an autistic person.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent