"When a caregiver gently tried to explain the situation to the deputy, he was told to shut up or be arrested.... The criminal justice system does not seem to recognize autistic persons."
I live in Union City, California. My 19-year-old son with autism becomes violent sometimes. He throws furniture around and might get hurt in the process. He tries to grab and bite. However, he has never used weapons. We had to call the Union City police two times in last 18 months. Both times the police handled the situation really well. They also handled another situation with a developmentally disabled person well last year.
My son lived in a group home near Hayward, CA in 2015. He had a violent episode there. Quickly he calmed down. Hours later, two Alameda county sheriff’s deputies arrived. A deputy questioned my son. My son may or may not understand questions and he hardly ever answers questions. He probably felt threatened and tried to go to his room. A deputy misunderstood my son’s behavior and handcuffed him. When a caregiver gently tried to explain the situation to the deputy, he was told to shut up or be arrested. My son was taken to the county psychiatric facility, handcuffed.
Autism cases are skyrocketing. Encounters between persons with autism and the police happen frequently. On July 18 in Miami, Florida a 23-year-old person with autism sat down in the middle of a street while playing with a white toy truck. While his caregiver, a 46-year-old black man, was trying to convince him to move, someone called the police stating a person was seating in the street with a gun. The police arrived. A videotape shows the caregiver laying down in the street holding his hands up in the air to convince the police not to shoot. He told the police he was a behavior therapist helping his autistic client who was playing with a toy truck. While the caregiver was requesting not to be shot at, a police officer shot him!
The criminal justice system does not seem to recognize autistic persons. I know of one autistic person, who has never harmed anyone, jailed many times “for resisting arrest” when in his mind he was merely trying to assert his and his family’s rights. The district attorney prosecuted him knowing he was autistic.
Clearly police officers need help in dealing with autistic persons and the criminal justice system needs to be changed. Its time start a dialog between the community, the police, and district attorneys.
Dhruv Joshi is the father of a young man with autism. He lives in Union City.