Autism and the Police

On April 19, 2015, I drove to a $tarbux location on S. Indian Hill Blvd. in Claremont with Daniel. I was fighting a migraine and I just wanted some coffee. Before I went to get my coffee, I had to get gas so I went to the Chevron station next door and, because I wasn’t wearing pants with pockets like I normally do, I accidentally locked my keys in the car. I had my debit card and Daniel but my purse and phone were in the car. After going inside to pre-pay for the gas and to borrow the phone to call Jon, I went and pumped gas before settling to wait until Jon could get there with my spare key.

Small problem: Daniel did not want to just walk around the gas station. He wanted back in the car and to go home. He had just turned 6 at the time and I could not manage to explain to him that we could not do that — that we had to wait for Daddy to bring the spare key to get him into the car — and he started melting down spectacularly. Instead of attracting pity or compassion, people started screaming at me to let my child go because I must apparently be kidnapping him or abusing him. (The fact that I was wearing a baggy t-shirt, baggy capri sweats, flip-flops, and had dark circles under my eyes that were visible even though I was wearing sunglasses was not helping.) I refused to let go of Daniel because I didn’t want him to go play in traffic, so the station owner and another woman called the police who came with sirens. Jon had come, gotten the car unlocked, and fled the scene by this point. I called him and told him to come back because I was going to need someone to vouch that I wasn’t some crack-addicted prostitute that was abusing my child. (This was not a fabulous part of town.)

The first police officer who came was a K-9 officer and treated me like crap because he didn’t believe me. He called for back-up and the two officers who arrived afterwards recognized what was going on and by that point, Daniel had calmed down and was chilling in his car seat while buckling and unbuckling his Winnie the Pooh harness. It was a 20 minute conversation with the latter two officers who asked me a bunch of questions about Daniel, checked him over for marks or bruises, and determined that he wasn’t being abused. I spent the next week in fear of a CPS visit.

Flash forward to last night: my cell phone went off while I was driving and I tried to pull over after passing the local middle school where the Mount Vernon Police were doing a speed trap. Apparently, I was partially blocking the lane because when I pulled back onto the road to drive the last couple blocks home, the police car appeared behind me with lights and sirens. When I turned off the ignition and waited for the nice police officer to come to talk to me, Daniel kicked off into a fear-related meltdown. I had to explain to the police officer why I had pulled over earlier and then started babbling about my kid screaming because he was autistic and afraid. (To his credit, the officer talked calmly to Daniel and tried to explain who he was.) While they ran my information (I wasn’t going to get a ticket but they probably wanted to make sure that there wasn’t something they should be checking out), Daniel got worse and started to make himself throw-up. I opened my door to see if I could stand by him and comfort him and the officer’s partner barked at me to stay in my vehicle. I replied calmly but with a focused tone that my kid was melting down and trying to make himself vomit from fear, at which point the first officer shoved all of my paperwork through the window and told me to drive safely home.

So why am I sharing these two stories? With all of the hubbub swirling around about the North Miami Police Department officer who shot the black behavioral therapist of an autistic man, I and a lot of other parents of kiddos on the spectrum are pretty unnerved. First of all, the behavioral therapist was on the ground with his hands in the air showing that HE WAS NOT ARMED!!!! Secondly, the autistic patient who the cop was trying to shoot HAD A FREAKING TOY FIRE TRUCK IN HIS HANDS!!!! There are a lot of things that look like guns but a toy fire truck isn’t one of them!!! Charles Kinsey, the therapist was trying to get him to “be still… get down… lay on your stomach…”, and was handcuffed while lying face down, which is really not helping the case of the cop. I honestly don’t know if Arnaldo Eliud Rios Soto (the autistic man) knew or understood what was going on, and that’s what scares me most: Soto could be Daniel some day.

My kid has a 50% developmental delay which means that right now, I’m dealing with a 3.5-4 year old in the body of a 7 year old. His receptive language (understanding spoken language) is at age level but he has a processing delay due to white brain matter abnormalities. It scares me that some day, a cop might mistake his normal autistic behavior for something else, scream for him to get down on the ground with his hands at his sides, and my kiddo won’t comply because all of those orders are garbled in his head. We already have him wear a bracelet at school and on the bus in case of an emergency that states that he is autistic, non-verbal, asthmatic, and prone to wandering. (He hasn’t eloped since we moved from Claremont to San Jose but it is still on there just in case.) Yesterday’s events are causing me to upgrade it to one that can be linked to an interactive profile with basic physical and medical information so that if something happens, first responders can get the information they need despite Daniel not being able to communicate.

This situation is my biggest fear right now and I don’t know how to deal with this fear.

2 thoughts on “Autism and the Police

  1. Thank you. These are my exact fears and concerns at this very moment. How do I prepare myself and my son (Downs and on the spectrum non-verbal) to live in this new scary world that is developing around us. I would like to try and start local with figuring out how to educate the local authorities about our exceptional people. It has to start somewhere and I think sharing information may help take some of the fear from the equation.

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