Imagine hearing your child screaming for help while being forced to remain in a box by someone you trusted to look after your child. That is how Heather Rhodes found her son Cade one day in his classroom.
Cade is a vibrant 9-year-old who loves to play baseball and "is loyal to a weakness," says Heather. Cade has Autism Spectrum Disorder, Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD), and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). That day, he knew his mom was in the school for a meeting and to celebrate with him and his twin sister, Calea. It was their birthday. Cade became upset when he couldn't see her. Instead of reassuring him, his teacher forced him to stay in a box, which only escalated his behavior.
"I could hear my child screaming 'let me out, I want my momma, please let me out,'" Heather says.
The black box, called the "chill zone," was constructed in the classroom. It was intended to be a voluntary self-management place for a student to calm themselves down and never to be used for punishment. This was not how the teacher was using the "chill zone." She used it to seclude Cade.
Heather began fostering Cade and Calea at 9 days old after receiving a call about the twins being left in the hospital after Hurricane Katrina swept through the Gulf Coast. She adopted them in 2010. "If I had put my children in a box at home, they would have been taken away from me," says Heather.
Heather, a single mother, former teacher and administrator, now acts as an advocate for reducing restraint and seclusion in schools and a resource for other parents.
"Parents need to know their rights and resources and they need to be active at the school and in special education."
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