Nfld. & Labrador

Autistic son put in black, padded room at school, says dad

A father in Mount Pearl says his severely autistic son was traumatized when a substitute teacher put him in a black room with no windows.

Eastern School District says room is meant to 'calm' agitated students

Aaron Crewe, who is autistic, plays a video game with his father, Michael Crewe. (CBC)

A father in Mount Pearl says his severely autistic son was traumatized when a substitute teacher put him in a black room with no windows.

Michael Crewe said his 14-year-old son Aaron was shut away in a small room with black-padded walls and no windows, except for a small opening on the door about three months ago.

Crewe said his severely autistic son does not like confined spaces.

"He was traumatized from the event, he wasn't himself, the fact that that someone he trusted would do something like this," said Crewe.

Crewe said the school had worked out protocols to calm his son down if he became agitated, which did not involve being placed in the small, black room.

On the day Aaron Crewe was placed in the room, Crewe said a substitute teacher was in charge of the class, and his son's protocols went out the window.

"What's the chance of this happening again?" said Crewe. "This applies to anybody, no matter what they have, [anybody who] is non-verbal, or anybody who is too nervous to speak up for themselves."

School district has many 'calming' rooms

Tony Stack, the Assistant Director of Education and Programs for the Eastern School District, said he could not speak specifically about the Crewe family's situation because the family has been considering legal action.

However, Stack said 47 schools in the district have these sorts of rooms, and they are used as a strategy to help students calm down. 

"For the student's own safety, the padding might help," said Stack. "And so there's no self injury, that may be the darkness, or the setting or light settings would be attuned to the individual student's needs."

Stack said there are no specific requirements for what the spaces should look like

"We will adjust the rooms' characteristics to those identified student needs," continued Stack. "So it could be low lighting, it could be using lava lighting, might be some toys in there for tactile calming. Could be a bean chair to sit on, could be just a calming rug."

Schools have lack of resources, says parent

Crewe said his son is already in a separate classroom from most students in his grade, so he would have no need of a calming room. Crewe said he saw that sort of room as a punishment room. 

"If I was a parent and put him in a black room or a dark room, we would have been investigated," said Crewe.

Crewe said the room has since been painted a lighter colour, but he still doesn't agree with having it in the school. He said rooms like exist partly because the schools have a lack of resources to help teachers and staff deal with children with special needs.