Don’t Handcuff Kids with Autism

by Pam Dillon

You’ve probably heard or read that parents of a nine-year-old boy are angry about what happened to their son at school this week. According to a story written by Robert Sibley and published in the Ottawa Citizen, an Ottawa police officer used handcuffs to restrain Daniel Ten Oever after he became aggressive at St. Jerome Catholic School.

Daniel has autism. 

He should NOT have been put in handcuffs. Period.

As the story has been reported, Daniel was highly agitated, “throwing stuff, breaking stuff, hitting” and when he was taken to the principal’s office, his agitation continued. School staff members were trying to calm him. “A police officer who happened to be in the vice-principal’s office next door came into the principal’s office and proceeded to place the boy’s arms behind his back and handcuff him.”

Let me repeat: This should NOT have happened.

The incident should be reviewed by the Ottawa police, by school officials and by the school board.

It must not happen again. Fortunately, the parents shared this story with the press because it does serve as what teachers like to call a “teachable moment.”

  1. About one in 94 people has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). That means there are a lot of kids with autism in local schools.
  2. ASD refers to a spectrum of neurological conditions characterized by differences in social interaction, communication and behaviour. Behaviour challenges may run the gamut from aggression and non-compliance to self-injury and destructiveness.
  3. These challenges are well documented and there are support and intervention plans to address them.
  4. Kids with autism who are in school have Individual Education Plans (IEPs). These plans often include detailed behaviour “accommodations.” They may include preventative accommodations, management accommodations and environmental accommodations, among many others.


Daniel Ten Oever is not the first kid with autism to have a meltdown—“throwing stuff, breaking stuff, hitting”—at school. For a child with autism, such a meltdown is indicative of extreme distress.

There are well-documented strategies and protocols to help the child in distress, keep everybody safe and minimize disruption. They DO NOT involve police or handcuffs.

In my experience, when a kid with autism gets off the bus extremely agitated and is unable to calm down, one helpful option is to call the parents. Ongoing communication and collaboration between school and home can make all the difference in the world for the child, the family and the classroom/school environment.

A mistake was made here. And there is an opportunity for the adults involved to acknowledge it, learn from it and use it as an catalyst to do things better. 



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