One Step at a Time

With stories in the news about police out of control and too quick to respond with weapons, I worry about people like my sons who are on the autism spectrum. They might not react appropriately to verbal warnings and would certainly fail to look an officer in the eye. It wouldn’t matter their age. I even wonder if they would be able to speak at all when fearful or if they would have it in them to run away. If they did, this might provoke a negative reaction and the use of a gun to stop them in their tracks (I hate to even utter “dead in their tracks”). So many innocent people have been killed, fueling the race issue. This is my worst nightmare as a parent. My children shouldn’t have to be victims of unnecessary violence because they are misunderstood or disliked. But is it really the fault of the police? How do they know who is mentally challenged? My kids don’t wear a sign!

Things can get out of control in a second when there is a lack of comprehension. I have heard of a homeless man beaten to death by aggressive cops who assumed he was on drugs. He was not. Rather, he was psychotic and had a family in the neighborhood. We live in a dangerous world where weapons abound. Self control is not the hallmark of the authorities in all cases. A nonresponsive autistic person could anger an otherwise normal policeman. He or she might appear defiant and flouting authority. Not enough has been said about this subject. You have to be a parent or relative to care. Let’s get society involved.

Given this possibility, I decided to coordinate a de-escalation course for the local police department that would focus on cases of autism among others. I invited an activist group to help conduct the class and help keep things calm. There would be autistic participants and no harm done to either side had to be assured. Tempers can flare when the police feel criticized or personally threatened. It may not change things drastically, but the program would at least draw attention to previously unknown problems. I like the idea of de-escalation because it involves rational thought and not pure animal reaction. I used this blog post to help me: The police would be encouraged to make choices that didn’t involve a stun gun, tear gas, pepper spray, or a metal baton. They must learn how to distinguish true aggression from a display of autistic behavior. I, for one, am so tired of misassumptions and incomprehension.

I invite others in the autistic community to start a similar course in their area. I guarantee that you will get considerable support and it would not cost much. It is more a matter of convincing the police to organize it. The local media would no doubt publicize the event and assist in making the issue known. There will be no more public outcry of mistreatment when advanced planning provides education.