It’s about time. One of my biggest concerns given the numbers of autistic children (and adults) is that they are frequently misapprehended by police to be engaging in criminal conduct, or refusing to obey police orders, when they are limited by their disability. According to this Newsday story, finally the police are being brought into the dialogue.
It’s hard enough to live with autism, or with someone who is autistic (and I use this word in its broadest meaning). You can love them all you want, but they require a lot of work and attention in everything they do. It’s just how it is. But one of the things that we need not tolerate is autistic children being killed by police because they “didn’t obey” police instructions. We don’t kill people because they are disabled, and the nature of autism impairs the ability to process commands, under stressful conditions, making it the perfect storm for tragedy.
There is no doubt in my mind that police do not want to harm an autistic person. But they do want to go home to their own family every night, and that means that they will invariably err on the side of doing what protects them over being particularly concerned for the welfare of the perceived “bad guy.” One of the keys to this program is to take a moment to observe and identify an autistic person before pulling the trigger.
This will prove more difficult than you think, since stepping back and observing is an invitation for disaster for police. You see, if the person is not autistic, but just your plain old vanilla miscreant, this gives the perp the opportunity to pull a gun and blow the officer’s head off. Not a good outcome. So how should the officer identify the individual who does not pose an immediate threat, and whom he should first observe rather than take a defensive posture? Other than to say that it’s a decision that has to be made on a case by case basis, there are no rules that I can think of.
There are many instances where a police officer has the opportunity to stand back, observe and determine whether the person he is dealing with is disabled or not. The criminal defense blawgosphere has gone bananas over the knee-jerk resort to tasers as a substitute for waiting out a situation. Hopefully, with a disabled child in mind, police will find waiting a little more palatable. With even more hope, police will envision what it will mean if they harm an autistic child for no better reason than the kid didn’t drop when they screamed. Does any cop really want to go to bed that night with that picture in his head?
Protect our children. Especially the disabled children. Learn about them, anticipate them and do not harm them. Please.
Edit. Note: There has been significant interest in this post over the past couple of days, and I have no idea why. A comment or email to let me in on the reason would be much appreciated. Thanks.