A five-year-old boy with autism was strapped to a chair at his waist and ankles at school, Belfast Live can reveal.
The little boy, the youngest of three children, attends a special school in Northern Ireland.
But photos sent to his parents as part of a class report revealed the youngster had been confined to the chair with straps at his waist and legs despite having no special physical needs.
Meanwhile, other pupils were able to sit and play freely.
Belfast Live is not naming the family to protect the child’s identity.
When his parents discovered 10 months ago what had occurred, they asked the school for an apology and an assurance the action would never be repeated.
But no apology was forthcoming and the child’s parents contacted Social Services and their son’s psychiatrist advised them their claims were a “child protection matter”.
Social services made a complaint to the PSNI and wrote to the child’s psychiatrist stating: “We fear [the child] suffered willful or neglectful failure to prevent injury and suffering, and confinement defined as physical abuse under Social Services procedure.”
The parents made an official complaint citing negligence and breach of duty by the school, the Education Authority and the Department of Education but say they have been left in limbo.
And an internal Education memo seen by Belfast Live, states that on June 29 the parents’ complaints should be registered with Internal Audit as a “potential whistleblowing case”.
The boy’s mum said: “Our son was tethered like an animal. He’s a placid little 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. Those chairs are made for children who need to be elevated and angled to the right position, not our son.
“We didn’t realise what had been going on until he actually managed to show us himself. Our son is autistic and non-verbal, but until this started happening he’d always been happy and cheerful and very easy company.
“Quite suddenly his personality changed and for the best part of a year we were going rapidly downhill. He was tortured, demented. I was really concerned he was going out of his mind. He was so distressed and agitated, having panic attacks, suffering night terrors and he was tearful and acting very strangely, a totally different little boy to the one we knew and he couldn’t tell us why.
“But he started staying in the chair at the dinner table and got very distressed if we tried to get him out of it. His psychiatrist has since told us she believes he’d been conditioned to sitting in a chair because he’d been taught to use the chair in school. He didn’t like it but he didn’t know what else to do.