Autism is a mysterious thing. There is so much to learn for society, parents, and those living with Autism. I am just a mom raising two boys. One child is typically developing and one is anything but typical. The developmental gap between the two widens every day. With one child, I know there will be challenges like the first time he goes on a date, decides his mom and dad aren't "cool" anymore, and the birds and bees talk. With the other child, we are blazing a trail. Will I ever face those same challenges? At this point, it is a resounding "I don't know".
I frequently look for inspiration and hope amongst other parents raising children on the spectrum. What I often find is that society as a whole isn't equipped to handle the Autism community. Two recent stories in the news this week alone prove my point.
In Florida, a behavior therapist is shot in the leg after he chased down a 24 year old man with Autism that had escaped from a group home. When pressed, the officer acknowledged that he intended to shoot the man with Autism after he did not comply to requests to lay on his stomach. The 24 year old man was playing with a toy truck. The therapist repeatedly stated that it was a toy, that the man had Autism, and that he was NOT armed. This is a tragedy for all involved, including the officer that shot the therapist. I think if a 24 year old man is living in a group home and playing with a toy car, it is pretty easy to assume that he probably doesn't have the mental capabilities of the average 24 year old adult male. With that said, the police department has publicly stated that the call they received was for an armed suicidal man and the officer made a split second decision. This miscommunication about a weapon by dispatch could have cost both men their lives, and will probably cost a police officer his job.
What could have prevented this? It is easy to look back and play armchair quarterback. It is NOT as easy to come up with the solution.
Another story in the headlines is closer to my home. A 7 year old girl allegedly eloped from a hotel room that her mom, dad, and 4 siblings were staying in on their way back home from a vacation. She left in only a pull up diaper while mom is reported as saying she was using the bathroom. The girl was found the next day in a lake close to the hotel. The only information being discussed at this time is through the words of the parents and their lawyers. They are now suing the police department for the handling of the call. I look forward to the details of the case, but at present time, the other 4 siblings are in CPS custody, mom and dad were interrogated for hours, refused to allow them to search for the girl in the area, and the room and all their belongings were searched and seized. I don't know what the typical local police protocol is for a missing child, but what I do know is that there is training available for first responders when it comes for children with Autism.
I sat through this training as a worried parent in 2013 during an Autism conference held at my regional educational service center. I remember one statement made by the speaker. He stated that he gave this same seminar to first responders all over the nation. He stated that local police/fire/rescue services had to request the training as it was connected to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children and had federal rather than state funding. Did that local police force have this training? What about the police force in Florida?
What would have changed if they knew that about 50 percent of people with Autism will elope. That these kids are notoriously sneaky and will wait for the opportunity to get out and explore. What would happen if officers knew how to approach an individual with Autism correctly? I live this every day, as my son makes frequent daily attempts to "chase air conditioning units". Not every elopement ends in death, but 90 percent of all fatalities that occur during elopement the is due to drowning.
More will probably unfold in the coming days, weeks, months on both of these stories, but one thing is very clear. More needs to be done to educate, inform, and assist. For more information see the linkMissing kids