Autism encounters with law enforcement: How can we make a change for the better?
The likelihood of an Autistic individual encountering law enforcement is high. With a large number of autistic children entering adulthood, it will be higher. There have been numerous stories in the news about these encounters that have led to injury, trauma and even death. As a parent of a spectrum child, it's frustrating, heartbreaking and painful to hear.
How do we solve this issue? And how can we work together with law enforcement?
July of last year, my 16-year-old low-verbal son had an encounter with a police officer. My son loves to be outside. At the time, we were three houses away from a park and lived there for 16 years. There was a softball game at the park when a patron misinterpreted his stimming and thought he was a threat.
The police were called and an officer without a uniform arrived. My son, not able to effectively communicate, had a flight response. Part of the response was to get to me so I could explain. My son was tackled and chased. I have a good view from my window to watch my son while he's outside. When I realized what was happening, I yelled loudly that he had autism.
The officer calmed down and stopped pursuing him. My son suffered scratches and bruises as well as severe emotional trauma. This scenario could have been worse but could it have been better? What can we do to protect our kids?
- Talk to your local police and fire department about autism.
- Inform them that they don't have to be autism experts to recognize autism behaviors.
- Educate them about stimming behaviors and how they may not respond typically to verbal commands.
- Make them aware that a large percentage of Autistic individuals have a seizure disorder or epilepsy and to handle them with care.
- Suggest they visit a special needs classroom and interact with the students.
- Be available for any questions they might have about autism.
- Talk to officers that have loved ones with autism and seek advice.
- Give them information about your child. Your local department might have a database of autistic individuals. Some of these are more advanced than others but it's a start.
- There are very few agencies that train officers about autism but they are out there. Autism Cop is one of them. Autism Cop is created by Brian Herritt, a retired police officer with a son on the spectrum. He has valuable information and offers resources.
- Talk to your kids or loved ones about it. Show them pictures of law enforcement and first responders to familiarize them.
- Act out scenarios with your child if possible.
- Make a visit to your local departments with your child and bring a treat.
- Contact your local disability organizations and advocacy groups to come up with solutions.
- Share your concerns with your child's therapist. They may come up with ideas to add to your child's therapy program.
I have learned, change does not happen without cooperation from all sides. Some will be open to information and some won't. Don't let that discourage you. Be persistent and don't give up hope.
Have you had a similar experience or fear it might happen to your child?