I’ve written about autism and law enforcement before, but in a time when it is becoming increasingly dangerous to be different it is worth mentioning again. The catalyst for this particular post is the NY Times article Helping Police Officers Understand Autism, which talks about the ongoing efforts of Dennis Debbaudt (who is an autism dad and, as it turns out, also provided the inspiration for my previous post on the topic).
Some key points from the article:
- People with developmental disabilities, including autism, have up to seven times more contact with law enforcement officers than others, according to an article in the F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin in April 2001.
- [W]hen Mr. Debbaudt asked whether any of the police officers, from departments throughout New Jersey, had received training on autism, either at police academies or on the job, only a few raised their hands.
- Mr. Debbaudt said he had heard of 6 to 12 cases each year in which people with autism are harmed, hit with a stun gun or killed by law enforcement officials. He cited the case of Calvin Champion Jr., a 32-year-old man with autism who died in 2000 after Nashville police officers used pepper spray on him and subdued him.
- “We’ve heard from families as well as from professionals that they just need more instruction, certainly in terms of first responders understanding that a person with autism may not respond appropriately or may not respond at all when given a command,” she said.
- A bill cosponsored by [NJ] State Senator Loretta Weinberg would require autism awareness programs statewide for emergency medical technicians, police officers and firefighters. The bill was passed by the Assembly in March, and awaits action in the State Senate.
That last bullet sounds like a good idea that should be spread across the country to every state. (I’m going to see what, if anything, is being done here in Missouri.)
If you are the parent or caregiver of an autistic person, or if you work in law enforcement, you owe it to your self to check out Debbaudt’s sites: Autism Risk and Safety Management and Police and Autism – Avoiding Unfortunate Situations.