Autistic kids need comfort zones, not seclusion rooms - principal

With seclusion rooms set to be banned in NZ schools, what is the best way to help autistic children? (Getty)
With seclusion rooms set to be banned in NZ schools, what is the best way to help autistic children? (Getty)

School seclusion rooms, also known as 'punishment rooms', are set to be made illegal in New Zealand under new legislation.

Often a small, bare space akin to a prison cell, seclusion rooms are used when teachers have no other option in dealing with children with major behavioural issues resulting from autism.

The Government is set to release new guidelines on how to deal with challenging behaviour, but the principal of a small rural in Waikato may already have the answer.

"You've got to treat an autistic child the same as every other kid," claims Glenn MacPherson of Maihiihi School, who had great success in educating 10-year-old autistic boy Cam Uden.

"Locking away autistic kids is not the answer. You have to be aware of a child's needs while not putting other kids at risk, but you've got to be positive. Building relationships with the children and the children's families is key."

There's no seclusion room at Maihiihi School, so when Cam was having issues he was given noise-cancelling headphones to wear.

He was also given his own space within the classroom with a familiar bean bag. Cam would essentially calm himself down.

"The school allowed Cam to take himself out of the situation but stay within the environment," Cam's father Jason Uden told Newshub. "He could make himself a new comfort zone, but would still be involved and would still learn."

So is it easier to educate an autistic child at a smaller school?

"I don't think so," says Mr MacPherson.

"I've taught at decile nine and 10 schools with 500 kids, it's no different. Every school has limited money and is looking to get the best out of what they have. But every child is special and deserves the same attention."

Mr Uden is surprised seclusion rooms are still used in some New Zealand schools.

"I can't believe it still happens. Locking kids in a room, who still does that? I've seen a contrast between schools who really get it, and schools who have no idea."

Mr Uden says it's just as easy for a teacher to put methods in place for autistic children in the classroom, as it is for them to check if they're wearing sunscreen before they go outside.