June 2016

In the history of our nation, we have disturbing examples of inhuman treatment conducted in the name of public health. Some of the most egregious examples involve controlling the behavior of those with mental and physical challenges. One such technique that, to date, has been considered an acceptable form of behavior modification is currently in the spotlight: the use of electrical stimulation devices (ESDs).

It is only recently that the FDA proposed a rule to ban these devices despite the fact that evidence has long shown that such techniques are not only ineffective, but actually cause, reinforce and maintain aggression and violence­­. In some instances, their use has had deadly consequences. There is no reason for these outdated techniques to exist, particularly when there are proven behavior management tools that work.

 In This Issue 

Recent Highlights

In the Media

Upcoming Events

Shining a Spotlight

When a child or adult experiences adverse treatment methods, the current trauma is compounded by past experiences, leading to even more aggression and fueling a psychologically destructive cycle. As an example, “Adam,” a 20-year old male, came to Grafton Integrated Health Network after spending five years in a psychiatric facility where he received electric shocks whenever he exhibited inappropriate behavior. According to the reports, Adam had 94 acts of physical aggression, 1193 behaviors not conducive to a learning environment and 3905 inappropriate verbal outbursts. Given this information, consider the number of times ESD's must have been used on Adam over those five years.

Adam was diagnosed with moderate mental retardation, fetal drug exposure, posttraumatic stress disorder, organic personality syndrome, impulse control disorder, seizure disorder, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The multidisciplinary team at Grafton working with Adam focused on identifying his triggers in order help him self-regulate his behavior.

Once it was determined that Adam was acting out simply because he wanted some measure of control over his environment, he was taught to use coping strategies and replacement behaviors. In a compassionate, non-violent environment, he realized that he no longer needed to engage in dangerous behaviors. Ultimately, he thrived in his new setting, with a significant reduction in reported incidents of inappropriate interactions and aggression.

When working with individuals who have experienced trauma, we must remember to be at our best even when they are at their worst. When we use techniques such as electrical stimulation, degrading people like Adam, we are at our worst. ESD use only adds fuel to an emotional fire within people suffering from the effects of trauma.

Our strong hope is that the FDA ban is passed immediately and that no other American is exposed to this degrading and dangerous practice. Ukeru has made our point of view clear by submitting comments to the FDA as it deliberate its decision. Lend your voice to the discussion by commenting on the proposal before July 25.

To stay informed in between issues of this newsletter, please be sure to follow us on Twitter @UkeruSystems or on Facebook. Current information is also available on our website. We hope you find this newsletter helpful and look forward to hearing your feedback!


Kim Sanders, President, Ukeru Systems


Bringing Trauma Informed Care in the Classroom Setting

On June 13, Ukeru hosted a webinar on bringing trauma informed care into the classroom. The discussion began with Scott Zeiter, Chief Operating Officer of Grafton Integrated Health Network, setting the stage with an overview of Grafton’s story of eliminating restraint and seclusion. Next, Annie Price-Hudson, an attorney from Public Counsel, provided details on the landmark class-action lawsuit her firm is spearheading against Compton Unified School District. Finally, Grafton behavioral analyst Jeremy Ulderich shared practical approaches that teachers and other educators can employ to create a trauma-sensitive environment in their classrooms.

You can have all the mental health support you want, but if there’s not a whole-school approach that includes training and alternative disciplinary resources, then that student is going to leave that mental health session and go right back into that environment where they’re going to be re-traumatized or their trauma is not going to be understood,” Annie Price-Hudson, Public Counsel
For those who were unable to join the webinar live, you can find a recording here.

NADD Webinar

On June 22, Ukeru had the opportunity to speak on a NADD webinar focused on on eliminating the use of restraint. The webinar addressed how seclusion and restraint escalate behavioral health challenges experienced by youth with IDD and co-occurring behavioral health disorders.

Because child-serving programs inconsistently understand trauma’s impact and how seclusion and restraint re-traumatize individuals, the panelists on the webinar discussed how to avoid these restrictive practices. Additional details can be found here.

Recent Events

Earlier this month, the Ukeru team traveled to Boston to speak with the Massachusetts Association of Approved Private Schools about eliminating restraints.

Also in June, we made our way to Kentucky for a meeting sponsored by Ramey Estep to share our story with providers.


Sadly, children with disabilities are at greater risk of being abused than children without disabilities. Children with intellectual disabilities, behavioral problems, and communication or sensory related disabilities are at greatest risk. Recently, Crystal Garrett, the mother of an autistic son, shared her experience.

Six-year-old Zachary was subject to restraints and seclusion — and, as a result, added trauma — because his first grade teachers and school administrators did not have adequate training to address his behavior in a more compassionate manner. You can read more about Crystal and Zachary here.


Upcoming Trainings

Ukeru will be hosting a series of training events — including a one day User Certification and a two day Train-the-Trainer certification course — at its Winchester, VA campus.

  • July 6-7
  • August 9-10
  • September 7-8
  • October 4-5
  • November 8-9

During the sessions:

  • Conceptual training will be provided on:
    • Verbal and nonverbal communication;
    • Managing and de-escalating conflict by converting/diverting aggressive behavior;
    • Building an environment focused on comfort rather than on control;
    • Taking into account the high prevalence of traumatic experiences in individuals who receive services for developmental, behavioral and mental health needs.
  • Physical techniques will also be taught by including the effective use of protective equipment to keep both the caregiver and client safe.

For more information or to register, please contact

Ukeru will be at the 47th Annual Autism Society National Conference taking place July 13 – 16 in New Orleans. Our discussion, titled Minimizing Restraint and Seclusion: Safety You Can Count (On), is taking place on Thursday, July 14 from 12:30 – 1:45 PM. Hope to see you there.


Speaking with Jennifer Burns, LeMoyne School Day Coordinator at Altapointe Health Systems 

As part of our efforts to share information and help support a vision of eliminating restraints and seclusions, we want to shine a spotlight on individuals and organizations making strides toward a trauma informed, person centered environment. Jennifer Burns, LeMoyne School Day Coordinator at Altapointe Health Systems, Alabama’s largest, regional community behavioral health provider, exemplifies this spirit.

Q: Have you used restraint and seclusion prior to adopting Ukeru?

A: The approaches I used, though they involved de-escalation, did have a restraint component. As an educator, I don’t like to use restraint; it is something that can retraumatize a student. And, in my experience, it never benefits anyone involved.

My goal has always been to teach in restraint free classrooms. Ukeru is in alignment with the methods —such as conscious discipline and mindfulness — I had already been using to help teachers in their classrooms and to provide students with the necessary life skills.

Q: What has your experience been using the Ukeru approach?

A: Ukeru is focused on trauma-informed-care. There is a lot coming out now about trauma; a lot is said about how many diagnoses (OED, ADHD) can be caused because of trauma.

The way a student is behaving may have nothing to do with what is going on immediately in the classroom, but everything to do with the trauma he or she has experienced in the past. When we as teachers realize this, we are able to take it less personally which makes the job easier. Ukeru requires me to check myself; to be mindful and in control so that I’m not a variable in an escalating situation.

In the past, I had students who needed a safe space in the classroom. Ukeru’s core of trauma-informed-care creates that space. Using restraint is really an interrupter, or Band-Aid. It doesn’t help students to acquire the tools they need to learn. In contrast, if a student is scared or feeling unsafe, Ukeru offers options to create a safe space and maintain a focused learning environment.

By using the Ukeru approach, I am not spending hours and hours with a student who has to be restrained and retraumatized – neither of which is productive OR educational. I can now spend more time on working with students on social skills. Once those are in order, I can then work on helping them to develop life skills.

Ukeru is also focused on student growth and helps them realize more progress – two things that are extremely important to me. Now, I get to work with students guiding them to become productive members of society so they can pursue what they want. That’s my favorite part of my job.

Q: What would you say to those that think restraints are necessary in schools?

A: I would ask: what skills are we teaching by using restraints? We are trying to make citizens and educate people who can go out in the world and function. If you have someone who is always “controlling” you in an effort to manage your behavior — a behavior that could be prompted by the very restraints that are being used — you are not learning the control or skills to manage yourself.

Besides being ineffective, restraints have had lethal consequence; students have died. Parents should be able to send their kids to school in the morning expecting that they will be safe and come home. These kids didn’t. That’s not something you want to be involved in as an educator.

In addition, using restraint and seclusion breaks trust. Imagine you came to school every day — a place where you’re supposed to learn ­— and every day something goes wrong. Because you are unable to manage under those circumstances, and instead of finding safety and comfort, you are restrained. As an educator, I can’t see how putting your hands on someone will enhance the educational setting. It’s not going to enhance your social relationships or your academic relationships; it’s going to put a strain on them.

Q: Why would other schools benefit from using Ukeru?

A: Restraint retraumatizes students and begins a negative cycle, where students become treatment resistant. This creates bigger problems going forward. There is huge benefit of maintaining trust with students, and moral overall, through the Ukeru approach. In addition, it resulted in less injury and increased cost savings.

And, in answer to a question I get frequently, the method works and does not reinforce bad behavior.

Q: How would you describe Ukeru in one word?


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