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The difference between a Scream Room and a Time Out

posted Jan 25, 2012, 7:12 AM by Diane Willcutts   [ updated May 20, 2012, 10:44 AM ]
Many schools in Connecticut and nationwide refer to seclusion as a "time out room," and understandably, many parents and teachers have said they support keeping these rooms, clearly because they think a time out can be helpful to students, giving them an opportunity to de-stress and regroup.

I agree 100% that time outs can be helpful for some children--whether they have disabilities or not.  But there is a big difference between a scream room and a time out.


Scream rooms:  These have locked doors, and the student is placed there in isolation.  Some parents report that the rooms in their schools are simply bathrooms or janitor's closets.

Time out room:  These are quiet rooms that can be exited.


Scream rooms:  Students are often placed in scream rooms as punishment for non-compliance with teacher instructions or minor but disruptive behaviors.  Some students are placed in these locked rooms for hours.  This is about teacher convenience, not about safety.

Time out rooms:  These are not used as punishment but as a place for the student to calm down.  Time out rooms can be helpful for students who are overwhelmed or overstimulated, whose behaviors escalate as a result.  Teachers are trained to recognize when a student is headed down the path of misbehavior and to recommend a time out before the behavior erupts.  Students are taught to recognize when they are becoming more stressed and to learn to request a break when they need one.


Scream rooms:  Never.  Research shows that seclusion is ineffective in changing behavior, and we know that students have been injured when left alone in these locked rooms.  The horrific situation in Middletown illustrates this, as staff have reported having to clean up blood and urine from these rooms.  The fact that these elementary students were routinely placed in scream rooms further demonstrates that seclusion is ineffective.  Some claim that scream rooms are used only for emergencies, but if there were a true emergency, someone would have called a mobile psychiatric unit to the school.  This is almost never the case.

Time out rooms:  A time out can be helpful when a student is overwhelmed and needs a break to de-stress, staying in the room for a brief period of time, just long enough to be able to return to their classroom to participate productively.