My friend at Notes From the Backseat wrote me something very profound but frightening: “People have this mentality that our kids outgrow [autism]. They don’t. They become adults with autism and you can’t expect a neurodiverse adult to be able to function in the same way as a neurotypical adult. The world isn’t ready for our kids to grow up, but there’s nothing we can do to stop it happening.”
When special needs children are young, there is a lot of attention paid to them. They get help in school, they get therapies, they have activities with other neurodiverse children. If someone sees an autistic child doing something unusual, they might think that child is “weird,” but they are not going to intervene or try to detain them.
However, once our children get older, unusual behavior can look like suspicious behavior and that is where it gets frightening. This was sadly the case this week when a police officer approached a 14-year-old high-functioning autistic boy.
The boy was stimming and the officer, alert because the location was known for drugs, noticed unusual behavior. As he approached the boy he asked what he was doing. The boy answered honestly: “I’m stimming.”
However, the officer did not know what that meant and asked the boy to not move.
The video below is what happened. Warning, it is a little rough to watch.
Because I know autism, I was instantly aware from Conner’s words and actions that he had autism. However, this police officer was not familiar with autism.
What To Do Now
Some people in the special needs community are calling for this officer to be fired. I don’t agree. I believe he was doing his job. He was looking for suspicious behavior in an area that was known to have drugs. That is what he found. Had he understood the word stimming, yes, this incident might have been avoided.
So let’s call instead for better training. What types of behaviors could officers be looking for as clues that a person is autistic or special needs? How can they approach people that appear to have special needs?
But the responsibility does not rely fully on the officers. As the parents of special needs children, we too need to be involved in training. How are we teaching our children to react to officers?
- Have we introduced our children to police officers?
- Have we talked with officers while they are in FULL UNIFORM?
- Have we explained the job of police officers?
- Do we role play what actions they should take?
- Do we have a social story developed around being approached by an officer?
In Phoenix, we have a program called BE SAFE that not only supports training for officers but helps train our CHILDREN to be safe around officers. If any of you live in the area, I would highly recommend attending one or more events.
We train our children to pay for food, do laundry, ride a bus. We must also train them to interact with police officers. What have you done to prepare your children for possible police interactions?