Their five-year-old autistic son had been “tethered to a chair like an animal” at his waist and ankles while his classmates at the school he attended in Northern Ireland were allowed to move around freely, the boy’s horrified parents discovered.
The couple, who cannot be named to protect the child, said although their son was autistic and non-verbal he had always been “happy, cheerful and easy company,” with no special physical requirements.
But, his mother told local media: “Quite suddenly his personality changed and for the best part of a year we were were going rapidly downhill. He was tortured, demented. I really was concerned he was going out of his mind.
“He was acting very strangely, a totally different little boy to the one we knew and he couldn’t tell us why.”
His parents only worked out what was going on when their son fortuitously pointed out pictures, in his school scrapbooks, of him strapped to a chair at school.
“We’d no idea he was restrained in a chair in school and we hadn’t given permission for that,” his mother said. “We didn’t realize what was going on until he actually managed to show us himself.
“Our son was tethered like an animal.”
She added: “He’s a placid boy, all his assessments show that. He is physically fit and active with some challenging behaviour but there’s never been a need to restrain him.”
His parents contacted the school and were told their son had been restrained to keep him safe. But no apology was issued as requested nor were they assured it would not happen again so they decided to home-school him for a while after which he started to heal.
“His smile is back,” his father said, “his anxiety lifted, his distress lessened and he was able to go back to school with different teachers who have been brilliant.”
But a human rights lawyer has agreed to take on the authorities about the boy’s treatment. The core issue he said was that there had been no communication with the parents and the child, who is now seven, had suffered emotionally.