The dilemma of the special-needs child:

For more than a decade, parents of children with developmental and psychiatric problems have pushed to gain more access to mainstream schools and classrooms for their sons and daughters. One unfortunate result, some experts say, is schools’ increasing use of precisely the sort of practices families hoped to avoid by steering clear of institutionalized settings: takedowns, isolation rooms, restraining chairs with straps, and worse.

The idea of equal access to education is noble, and there is good evidence that “mainstreaming” special-needs children is of such great benefit that parents are right to demand it.

But given the level of attention these children require, the possibility their inclusion may hinder the progress of others, and the ramifications of a poor decision in a country as litigious as ours, there’s no easy answer to the question, “Is this a good idea?”

Dr. Peterson, the Nebraska professor, illustrates the challenges by citing two recent cases in Iowa. In one, the parents of an 11-year-old who died while being held down called for a ban on restraints; in the other, parents charged that a school failed their son by not restraining him. The boy ran away and drowned.