Last week I received this comment on our blog about Dads and Autism:
“Ben’s Dad here. I really connected with the above article and others’ reaction when they got the diagnosis. I think my concern for my son was (and still is to some extent) about his safety. My son is really high functioning, but when he was first diagnosed I heard of all kinds of horror stories of kid with autism eloping. I had a friend whose son had autism and they had to put an alarm on the door because he would leave the house at night. They said they found their son one night on the entrance to a freeway. As my son began to grow and develop I became less concerned because he seemed to cope well with change and could adapt. Now that he is 11 my main concern is his interaction with others especially the police. My son is African-American and my concern is that if he is approached by the police and they request something of him (i.e. put your hands up, freeze, etc.) and he is unable to understand he may be perceived as resisting. I continue to guide him and instruct as best as he can comprehend, but I am still concerned for his safety and well-being emotionally and physically. Thanks for allowing me to share.”
The next day my colleague Katrina shared with me a nerve-racking video of a teen with autism and his behavior therapist in a tense situation with police in Florida. The young man had run away from his group home and his therapist went after him. Cell-phone video shows the therapist identify himself and the client, follow police instructions to lie down and put his hands in the air, explain that the teen had a toy truck in his hand. The teen doesn’t respond to the therapist telling him to lie down too as instructed by the police. The therapist is shot three times by police and the teen is handcuffed and taken away. The worst nightmare for many a parent of a teen with autism.
What can we learn from this incident? Is there a way to avoid or prepare for something like this?
While there’s no way to prepare for every possible incident, there are steps parents can take to increase awareness. When our daughter was young, she would oh-so-stealthily sneak out of our home to neighbors’ homes. She knew exactly where Miss Linda’s cookie jar was. We made a point of getting to know our neighbors and asked for their help if they ever saw her outside of our home without an adult. For older kids, particularly young adult males, it may be a good idea to get to know the local first responders in your area. I know several parents who are on a first name basis with theirs. If your child lives in a group home or supported living, you might want to make sure staff have a recent photo and information sheet about your child at the house, in the car, and in their backpack. For more on safety ideas, check out the following:
Smart911 allows you to develop a detailed profile of your family members that pops up when a phone linked to it is used to call 911.
Here’s one mom’s story from the Seattle Times.
What measures have you taken to keep your child safe and to inform first responders of their diagnosis and behavior? Share your ideas and stories with others!