Thursday, April 23, 2015


I'm a middle aged white guy who wears a suit (or some close approximation thereof) to work most days, so I don't worry much about cops.  Well, I didn't.

Then I had a kid who is the worst at respecting authority.  If you tell him what to do and you sound angry, he's probably going to hit you.  Which is a problem in general, but is amplified with police officers.

I have already started trying to work with him on how to act with police officers.  So far, I have been extremely unsuccessful. I fear for his future.

Keep in mind that he is four.  If you think this is too young to worry about these things, please read this article about use of police for discipline in our kids' schools. Six and seven year-old kids get arrested for meltdowns in this country, and students with disabilities are arrested at about twice the rate as neuro-typical students.
Diagnosed as autistic, Kayleb was being scolded for misbehavior one day and kicked a trash can at Linkhorne Middle School in Lynchburg, Virginia, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A police officer assigned to the school witnessed the tantrum, and filed a disorderly conduct charge against the sixth grader in juvenile court.

This is simply the criminalization of autism, and that first interaction led to a spiral of negative consequences for Kayleb.  In a separate, but related, incident, the officer grabbed 11 year old Kayleb, who responded by trying to push the adult officer away.  Kayleb was charged with felony Assault on a Police Officer for his attempts to protect himself.

We're a few years away from 11, but I know my kid.  There is no doubt in my mind that he would respond just as Kayleb did in that situation.

This is far from the first article to strike fear in the hearts of autism parents. Many of my friends who read the story of Neli Latson earlier this year saw parallels between his reaction to a police officer's physical attempt to impose his authority and their own children's behavioral patterns.  Many of us fear even a single interaction between our children and law enforcement, because children or young adults who, constitutionally, cannot bend to authority, cannot be subtle or control their emotions, are likely to fall into an escalating cycle of violent responses to aggressive actions.

Rule number one for interacting with my boy: don't put your hands on him when he is upset. He will hand you your ass.  Or bite you on it.

There are many autism parents who will not call the police despite being in physical danger. I read an article last year about a mom who built a safe-room for herself for use during meltdowns.  She refused to call police because she was (justifiably) afraid her son would be shot, but needed a place to go to ensure her own safety.

If the system is broken, you have two options:  try to fix the system we have or build a different system.

I don't think I will ever be comfortable with my son or a child with similar neurology to him interacting with an armed police officer.  A new system is the approach I would take if I could.  In an ideal world, I would want an alternative emergency system for parents or caretakers facing a mental health crisis.  I would want an unarmed response.  I would want social workers and crisis counselors, not police officers.  I would want automatic diversions to crisis treatment centers for folks with existing mental health diagnoses.

In other words, I want my son to be given reasonable accommodations for his disability. 

Is that really too much to ask?


Karen Wesley Writes said...

Love this.

Kate said...

My daughter had a classmate, a mostly-sweet kid with mild autism and an unusually low frustration tolerance called B. B told her she was doing her math worksheet wrong and offered to help; she politely said "no thanks" a few times, and; B stabbed her with his protractor in sheer frustration. She ended up in the ER for six stitches. Both kids were all of 9 at the time.

(Fwiw, B's was right about the math problem, my kid was wrong... but a 9 yo failing to grasp some math concept is NOT stab-worthy).

The real fun started immediately after that little incident - because the teacher (instinctively, I think) called 911. Lots of blood. Cuts to the face bleed a LOT. No charges were pressed (and I'd've objected to any being filed).

B's mom demanded my girl be moved to another class because it'd be "too disruptive" to move him halfway through the year -- um, no. Actions have consequences and my girl was the *victim*.

(I cannot tell you how many calls I've gotten from B's mom asking why my girl is nice to B at school but declined his play date invites... because he assaulted her. Yes, it was 2 years ago. Yes, she's polite to him because my husband and I require to be and because she's not being raised by wolves).