NCSA Position Statement

Personal Safety and Abuse Prevention

The cognitive and communication impairments of individuals with severe autism place them at significantly elevated risk of physical, emotional, sexual and financial harm. The NCSA strongly advocates for policies to ensure safety across all settings. This includes training of personnel, including direct care staff, educational, medical and therapeutic providers, case managers, guardians, trustees, and first responders. The NCSA also endorses the use of appropriate technological support, as may be needed, such as cameras, recording devices, door chimes, locks, and tracking devices, to help monitor the safety of persons with severe autism where safety requires persistent oversight.

The aggressive and self-injurious behaviors of many individuals with severe autism often result in seclusion and restraint. The NCSA supports the development of alternatives to these often inappropriately and excessively utilized strategies, such as proactive techniques to identify triggers and intervene before behaviors escalate. Providers have also been successful teaching individuals self-regulation skills and introducing alternative and augmentative communication to allow them to, for example, ask for a break. However, the NCSA does not support a total ban on seclusion and restraint. Extreme aggression and self-injury can be dangerous to both the autistic person and those in the immediate environment. Occasionally, extreme circumstances might demand these interventions, but performed only by trained and qualified staff, utilizing the safest possible measures, and followed by full documentation for purposes of accountability and feedback for later preventive measures. Taking these options off the table often would have the unforeseen consequence of precluding participation in mainstreamed or community settings where violent behavior must be immediately controlled.

Wandering and eloping are dangerous behaviors common in this population. Researchers report that approximately half of autistic children suffer from these compulsions, which are a leading cause of death, mainly due to drowning. The NCSA strongly supports measures such as “Kevin and Avonte’s Law,” which allows Justice Department funds to be used to train teachers and first responders, as well as to provide tracking devices and other technology to families whose children are at risk of wandering. 

The NCSA believes that these legitimate and profound safety concerns should be an integral and explicit component of all educational, residential, vocational, and financial policies affecting the severely autistic population.

Adopted by NCSA Board of Directors December 10, 2018

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