Psychologists call for prompt end to restrictive practices in disability sector

Urgent action must be taken to ensure Australians with disabilities - including children and young people - are protected from unnecessary restrictive practices that put their lives and wellbeing at risk, along with those of the people working with and caring for them, according to the Australian Psychological Society (APS).

Training is urgently required to ensure that those working in residential homes, disability services, prisons, special and mainstream schools and aged care facilities are able to use simple strategies which research has shown are safer and more effective in dealing with the challenging behaviours that can result when individuals with disabilities become distressed. The strategies are contained in expert guidelines which have been researched, developed and recently released by the Australian Psychological Society in collaboration with leading disability experts. The guidelines were highlighted in a recent investigation into the use of restrictive practices on children with autism on ABC's 7.30.

Dr Rebecca Mathews, psychologist and manager of practice standards at the Australian Psychological Society said: "Challenging behaviours in people with disabilities can arise for a number of reasons and we need to take the time to assess each individual's social, emotional and psychological needs to ensure that they receive appropriate support to avoid these distressing incidents. It is misguided to just blame staff, who deserve better training and support to help them provide the best possible care and services to people with disabilities."

It is believed that at least a quarter of all people with an intellectual disability will be subject at some time to some form of restraint, including physical restraint (someone holding them down) chemical (through the use of sedatives or other drugs), mechanical (by harnesses or straps) and seclusion (which can include confinement and withdrawal of privileges or special objects).

Yet proactive interventions as simple as providing appropriate activities and stimulation, skills for communication or reducing noise in the environment can significantly reduce instances of stress and difficult behaviour.

The APS practice guidelines for those working with people with disabilities have been developed in an attempt to reduce the use of restrictive practices and follow an extensive review of evidence dating back to the 1930s, showing how less violent interventions were safer and more effective over the long term. The APS has also called for a review of legislation, which exists in each State and Territory to govern the use of restrictive practices.

Dr Mathews said: "Vulnerable children and adults with disabilities, some of whom have difficulty even communicating what has happened to them, continue to be exposed to the risks inherent in using restrictive practices, which have in some cases led to death and which are certainly in contravention of their human rights."

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For media queries contact Karen Coghlan or Judith Heywood on 0435 896 444 or media@psychology.org.au.


The APS is the largest professional association for psychologists in Australia, representing more than 20,000 members. The APS is committed to advancing psychology as a discipline and profession. It spreads the message that psychologists make a difference to peoples' lives, through improving psychological knowledge and community wellbeing.