Autism and Law Enforcement

How does what happened in Ferguson, Missouri matter to the autism community?

I won’t comment on the actual events that took place in Ferguson, Missouri in August. I’m shying away from my actual opinion on that incident because I want to keep the focus on autism and that incident had nothing to do with autism.

Still, there is a bit of connection to autism.

How?

Because our ADS children as well as all adults with an ASD have to interact with local law enforcement.

I know training programs have taken place within the autism community regarding whether a law enforcement employee can recognize an individual with an ASD.

Why is this important?

Because individuals with an ASD do not always react in a “socially accepted” way in some situations. They often get stressed much quicker than typical individuals and/or may not understand what is being said to them and why.

They also have reactions that are different.

Let’s say a young adult with an ASD is pulled over or confronted by a police officer. In this situation, stress may happen sooner and with more force.

In many situations, this person might have an opportunity to regulate their body. Walking fast, flapping, hand clapping, putting their hands over their ears, etc.

But, how does that police officer respond to something like an ASD person needing some regulation?

Can our law enforcement personnel recognize the difference between a stressed, de-regulated ASD child, teen, or adult? Do they have training on those differences?

How can we improve those interactions?

Do I worry about my own child?

Of course I do.

My child usually has a sweet disposition and he’s always enjoyed talking to police officers and fire department personnel. Fire trucks and police cars have been obsessions for him. So, in his brief experiences, the people who run those vehicles are the good guys.

And, they should be treated with respect. That’s what we try to teach our child.

To treat everyone with respect.

What about a possible law enforcement confrontation with my child?

I worry about when my child is older and how he will handle that type of situation.

Again, treat that person with respect is number one on the list.

Second, try to remember that the individual in front of you probably does not know you have autism nor does that individual necessarily know what it means to have autism.

Third, perhaps it’s a good idea to inform that individual that you have autism. “I have autism and it may mean that I get a bit stressed inside easier. It’s harder on my body when I’m in unfamiliar situations.”

Fourth, do as instructed. The officer may be telling you that he/she thinks you did something—whatever that “something” is. You may want to immediately convince the officer that you did not do whatever it is. Your body my react quickly to being accused of a wrongdoing.

Still, be patient when it comes to a law enforcement person. Do as they are instructing. If they tell you to lie on the ground, do it.

Everything will be sorted out later.

Law enforcement personnel spends their days dealing with a lot of stress.

If you communicate with them, try to remain calm, and do as instructed, you’ll be better off.

What about law enforcement?

As I mentioned, I know that law enforcement training regarding how to recognize an individual with an ASD has begun. I don’t, however, believe it’s nearly as commonplace as it needs to be.

Training and classes need to be now, and they need to be ongoing.

There are thousands upon thousands of kids growing up now with an ASD. They will be young adults very soon. There are already many young adults and adults living with an ASD.

Law enforcement needs some crucial information about ASD’s and they need it now.

I believe it’s moving forward.

Why do I believe this?

Because members of law enforcement have families, too.

I spent a 4 hour ride along with a member of our local sheriff’s department this summer. Turns out, we spent most of our time talking about our sons, who are both on the autism spectrum!

Talk to your child about how to approach a law enforcement person—especially if he/she are alone. Take them through some steps, including just informing the person that you make not react as they expect. Assume, for now, that they do not know the difference.

But, be respectful.

In the end, hopefully, it will all work out okay.

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