"Quiet Rooms"...What's the Problem?

The term “Quiet Room” sounds so peaceful as it invokes thoughts of serenity. I guess that is why more and more school districts are pushing the terminology “Quiet Room” as opposed to “Seclusion Room” or “Timeout Room”. So what is the difference? Honestly, I am looking for some answers because I am not sure. Earlier this week, I spoke to someone from the state who told me that they are the exact same thing. She said “it was just terminology”. I have seen pictures of “quiet rooms” and “seclusion rooms”, and I don't quite understand the difference.  So if anyone reading my blog knows where I can find the documented definitions, I would appreciate the help.

As a parent of a child with autism, I don't care what the room or area is called. The purpose is the same – to isolate a child with autism when he/she is having a meltdown after a teacher subjectively decides that the child is a threat to themselves or someone else. Parents should not fret, because it is legal to create a “quiet room” in a school?  But wait, you don't like the idea? Let me tell you what I've learned in the past 2 weeks, and maybe you'll change your mind.

Apparently the rooms are legal as long as the physical space exceeds 28 square feet. So parents, do you feel better now? Do you like the idea of having a teacher or aide put your child in a “quiet room/area”? After all, the space exceeds 28 square feet. Sound good?

To put that in perspective, I measured the size of my small walk-in closet and it just about exceeds 28 square feet. So as long as the “quiet room” or “quiet area” is about the size of my closet, it may be legal. Feel better now?

Also, the rooms may be considered safe by the state even if the walls are made out of concrete block or sheet rock. In a split second, a child with autism could bang his head against the concrete in an effort to escape and be seriously injured. But I was told that it is legal to make a room with concrete block walls. So parents, are you warming up to the idea yet?

Here's another fact that should make you feel better. The rooms are not locked. Teachers can stand outside the door and look into observe. I am sure a 5 year old child is free to leave the room anytime they wish.   Without a videotape of the entire situation, how would parents know what really happened? The answer is easy. Parents, you should just “trust” that the teachers and aides are fully trained, followed the law and did not block the door.

So you are not feeling comfortable yet? Well, if it is legal, it should be okay...What do I need to do to convince you that quiet rooms are in a child's best interest???

Well, if I can't convince you of this great idea, a district can always construe vague wording in your child's IEP to say that you gave consent to put your child in the room even if you did not know the room existed. The person I spoke to at the state said that in my son's IEP, the words “safe area” could be interpreted to mean that I gave consent to put my son in a “Quiet Room” or “Quiet Area” with a door.

So if you didn't like the idea of the quiet room, you might not even know that you consented. Nice huh? Hey parents, how are you feeling now about the peaceful “Quiet Room” now?

Still not loving it? Well, I am sure we could conjure up some school officials to tell you that the tantrumming child with autism actually likes being put in the room....concrete walls and all. Yep, the kids like being in a room with the door shut...getting that needed “alone time”. That will surely decrease behaviors, right?

Personally, I could see how a child with autism who craves a quiet place could find comfort in a small room where he could sit on soft chair/sofa and read and play with sensory items. But I guess empty quiet rooms are becoming “all the rage” in Behavior Management of kids with autism?

And what if your child happens to witness a child being restrained and being put kicking and screaming into one of these rooms in his classroom? How would the child be psychologically impacted? Would you as a parent be told that your child was exposed to the event? Possibly not. After talking to the contact at the state, she said the school has no obligation to tell me.

So why do I care about these rooms anyway? Why should you care? Two weeks ago, I found out that my son's typical elementary school, in beautiful Chester County, Pennsylvania, created 2 “quiet rooms/areas” (the name keeps changing). Apparently, the rooms were created months ago. Yet no one told parents until last week when we received the first letter. From the letters, it is clear to me that my district is very concerned about the “name” of these rooms/areas and they met the legal square footage. But is anyone asking parents or autism experts if we approve of these rooms for our children?

Sadly, these rooms are many times totally legal. I can tell you that I am NOT feeling better – no matter what the schools name the rooms or whether they are legal. As I dig deeper and deeper, I am sickened by the stories of these rooms at our school, and I am finding it hard to sleep. I hold in my tears as I hear stories of other districts using these rooms, and I cannot believe this is legal and so pervasive.

So here is the bottom line: Someone needs to stop asking what is legal, and start asking what is the moral and ethical way to treat our children with autism? It happens so often in life that something is legal but is just not right. Maybe it is because the voice of the vulnerable are too quiet to be heard. Maybe it is because we too often trust people to do the right thing on their own.

I am not naive and understand that some parents and clinicians/teachers have a true need for heavily padded rooms that are used with highly trained clinicians/teachers. I also understand that in these circumstances, parents are fully informed about the rooms and often the child finds comfort in being alone. Unfortunately, behaviors associated with autism can be very severe. I have also heard that when padded rooms are used in severe cases, they are used with reservation and caution.

But is this always the case when someone decides to create a “quiet room” at a typical elementary school? I would argue no. Districts across the country need to get serious about Best Practice Behavior Management and stop taking the easy way out with the use of these rooms. There ARE wonderful teachers out there who decry the use of such rooms, and successfully manage difficult behavior. Districts need to look to Board Certified Behavior Specialists to perform Functional Behavior Assessments and to drive the creation and implementation of Positive Behavior Support Plans.

Best Practice Behavior Management can and does work. My son is living proof. When he was younger, he often had severe behaviors such as tantrums, pinching, hitting, and eloping. Instead of being put in a “Quiet Room”, the teachers, TSS, parents and behavior specialist worked together to implement his behavior plan to reduce and eliminate behaviors. The behavior plan is not a quick fix nor is it easy to implement at times. Behavior can be exhausting for teachers and parents, but over time, my son's severe behaviors have been successfully eliminated.

So what can you do if you have not embraced the idea of “Quiet Rooms/Areas”? It is essential that parents and advocates be vocal about their opposition to these rooms. We need to change the state law to reduce and/or eliminate their creation and use. Start by calling and writing your state legislators (
http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/find.cfm).   Ask legislators for a bi-partisan investigation of the use of these rooms in school districts across Pennsylvania. Not only are our tax dollars being used to build these rooms, we are paying for the district's legal fees when they incur lawsuits.

Check your child's IEP behavior plan and crisis intervention plan. Make sure the wording in your child's IEP is very specific and does not leave room for interpretation about where your child will be placed when he/she is having a meltdown. If your child does require a quiet space, make sure there are specific time limits in your child's IEP and go look at the space.  If you are not in agreement about the room, write a letter telling the school that you do not consent to the use of this room on your child.  Contact an advocate and make sure your child's rights are being protected via his/her IEP.

Lastly, contact your federal representatives about this issue.  On May 19th, the House Committee on Education and Labor is having a hearing to look at seclusion in schools.  We must make our voices be heard so our children do not suffer in silence.  Here is the link to find your congressperson:
https://writerep.house.gov/writerep/welcome.shtml  A quick email is all it takes to share your views on this topic.
If you asked me 2 weeks ago what was happening at my son's school, the words “quiet room” would have never even entered my mind. If this can happen to me and the parents at my son's school, it CAN happen in your school district and in your child's school. Your school may already have a “quiet room” and you don't even know it.

As I write to you today, someone's child with autism is being put into a room in some school somewhere. There is a small, frightened child with autism crying inside a room that is technically “Legal”. It is time to put an end to this antiquated practice and stand up for our children's rights.

PS- If you feel like supporting us in our opposition to these rooms, please write Chester County legislators (
http://www.legis.state.pa.us/cfdocs/legis/home/find.cfm) and tell them you oppose seclusion/time-out/quiet rooms. As parents, we would appreciate any assistance we can get educating our legislators and school officials.


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  • 5/19/2009 11:35 AM Tonya wrote:
    I am horrified, Karen. Thank you for writing this. I used to be one of the many apathetic Americans who figure I don't have an austic child so why should I worry about educating myself? This is horrifying!
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  • 5/19/2009 11:37 AM Gabriella wrote:
    EXCELLENT ARTICLE. I have posted it on Facebook and quoting you on this: So here is the bottom line: Someone needs to stop asking what is legal, and start asking what is the moral and ethical way to treat our children with autism? It happens so often in life that something is legal but is just not right. Maybe it is because the voice of the vulnerable are too quiet to be heard. Maybe it is because we too often trust people to do the right thing on their own.

    WOW. so true and i am finding this to be the question TOO OFTEN
    Reply to this
  • 1/24/2011 5:17 PM polar f4 wrote:
    Excellent article, a great deal of valuable information.
    Reply to this
  • 2/13/2011 8:24 AM DeAnna wrote:
    HiKaren, I find your article interesting and your interpretation of a quiet room. I am in Australia and last year I worked to get a quiet room created for my son. He has sensory issues and when he could not cope he would leave the classroom and have nowhere to go, the teachers would persecute him and try to get him back to the classroom and eventually he resorted to leaving the school grounds. This was met with threats to call the police, etc. After we created a 'room' which was some cupboards, curtains and beanbags he was allowed to retreat to that space when the world got too hard to deal with and before he got to a meltdown stage. He was given boundaries of how long he could spend there and when he had to try to go back to school but to him it was a 'safe' place where he wasn't picked on my kids or teachers. Transition time in the morning he was given 20mins with his DS to calm before going to class. No one stood at the door but the teachers knew where to find him when he disappeared. It has worked really well for us and made his school days much more bearable. I suppose it is not so much the room but how it is used that is important.
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  • 6/27/2011 10:00 AM melissa wrote:
    As a educational assistant in Ontario Canada I am sadden by this. Quiet rooms as you have described them are not allowed in our board. The quiet room that we have in our school is a whole class room set up with different areas such as a quiet work area a relaxation area and a sensory area. Children with ASD as well as other come and relieve extra work support or just relax. That is what a quiet room should be. Some schools in our area have a Snozalyn room which is a dark quiet sensory room for ASD kids. I hope That the US changes there policy on quiet rooms.
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  • 1/21/2012 2:54 PM Shanna wrote:
    We have two of these rooms in my son's elementary school. Some students have spent hours at a time in this room screaming, crying, kicking the walls, etc. It's very disturbing. I wish I had found this article sooner...
    Reply to this
  • 4/14/2012 12:22 AM Nicholas wrote:
    This happened to my five year old boy yesterday. I had to go pick him up from school cause of his melt down. As I got to where he was, I was horrified and heart broken to see my little angel face down in his hands crying, and NAKED because they let him strip, then peed and messed his hands all in it. As I opened the door and said his name, he looked up, got calm and I helped him get dressed. We left immediately. I am not letting him back to that school. They obviously don't mind using that room and it is inhumane to do so. He has a large recliner rocking chair in his classroom specifically for him for melt downs. I had no idea of this quiet room, I asked how long he was in there, and the principal said she didn't know. I'm so angry and like I said heart broken. -Nick in kelso wa.
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