Police and Aspies: No Answer

So here’s a subject I had never really thought about in great detail. I was on twitter and came across an issue tweeted by Sharon daVanport (blog-talk radio, twitterfacebook) a director of the Autism Women’s Network (AWN). Someone in the forum had been harassed by the police for no reason. Their story goes that they had been eating in Subway and when this person went out to their car two police officers called the person by name and surrounded the writer. The person had no idea who they were even though they evidently knew the poster. They refused to let the poster leave until the poster answered how she was.  They then followed her in their cruiser for several blocks. The poster was scared, confused and frightened. She asked for help. What should she have done? Did she do anything to warrant the police officers harassment? I feel frustrated because I had no way to help this person. I have no idea what if any advice really exists to give her. The police obviously were harassing this young person. They obviously thought it was funny knowingly upsetting her. Then why did they do it? Well, I think we all know the reason for that; some policemen are not peace officers but bullies with a badge. But the reality is, how often will our children face a situation like this and how do we teach them to handle it?

I know that I live in a very small town and that the police chief knows my husband from the Community Emergency Response Team. Hubby is the chairperson of the all volunteer group and was just responsible for setting up the shelter in our town during the snowicane.  I know that there are only 20 police officers in our town all together and that they tend to be respectful and good people. I have seen them in town when the middle school gets out, directing traffic around the miscreant adolescents, usually yelling at the kids to get out of the way of the cars, but for the most part, not interfering in youthful fun.  I have dealt with them myself when I was a lecturer for the Juvenile Law Center, when I lectured middle schoolers about their rights and obligations under law in society.  They all seemed nice and genuine about their desire to help the kids. Only once did I detect a swagger, where the officer barreled his way into class, with a pistol on his hip and two deputies at his side.  Truthfully the kids ate it up.

Personally, I have never had to deal with an abusive, aggressive or rude police officer in my life. Well, once in Boston as a college student when hubby made a wrong turn in the car. We were lost and very confused. But I think the Yankees had just clobbered the Red Socks once again and the Bostonians take their baseball just a little too seriously for my taste. But for the most part whenever I have shown respect to a police officer no matter where I was, the respect was returned. Funny though, how such incidents stay with you. This happened decades ago and I can still see that police officer’s face, see his march fom the car and I feel the surprise at his hostility. I was taken aback and truthfully a little scared at that moment. So I totally sympathize with the poster on AWN.

However,  I have to say, in the back of my mind I always think about the boys in relationship to police officers or some form of authority figure. I know they do not look people in the eye and they do not always answer right away. Those trained to catch liars are not trained to understand autism. I am afraid that the boys’ hesitancy and their indirectness may be misconstrued. I know it has to be an issue because the author Jodi Picoult just wrote a book with an aspie protagonist who gets in trouble with the police for those reasons.(No I have not read the book, but if I do I will let everyone know what I think).

I try to teach them to be respectful of police officers. I try to teach them to make eye contact and answer when spoke to. I teach them that police officers are their friends and there to help you. I teach them that behavior is everything and that people judge you by what you do and say. I teach them that as they grow into young men, meltdowns in public will bring the police and that people will not look kindly upon any societal infraction. I teach them that they cannot yell at strangers. I teach them that they should not grouse under their breath or act strange in any way. (It is hard to tell them how to behave and to make sure that they listen and practice. So much they still cannot control when they get overwhelmed. They are both terribly rude when they are at their most anxious and I would think if they are stopped by the police their anxiety would go through the roof. Rudeness is not going to be understood by a police officer, and especially not appreciated.)

I teach them to obey the law. I teach them that just because they have aspergers does not mean they will not be punished if they break the law. I make sure on their medical alert necklace has their diagnosis of aspergers on it and that there are emergency numbers with a list of medications as well. It is for medical purposes but it is also an instrument of security, that if they ever do get stopped they can show it to the police officer who just might read what it says.

I know that there are programs out there that train police officers to become aware of autism and how to deal with it. I know that there are programs where you can register your child and their disability with the police. But in a big city how much training would the officer actually get? How much time would they have to understand what is going on? Police officers are faced with life and death decisions that at times need to be made in a split second. Are they going to endanger themselves because they are not sure if the person having a meltdown is dangerous or is that person autistic?

I know this doesn’t answer the question of the young autistic person who was hassled by the police just because she wanted to eat lunch. I know that this post doesn’t answer any questions, it just raises them. I guess I have no answers myself, except to teach my boys how to behave and that they must always always be respectful to a police officer. I teach them that they must always obey the law and expect punishment if they don’t.

Luckily neither one thinks law is a joke. When collegman was 5 he took something out of a store by hiding it in his coat pocket. After we walked way he showed me what he had. I marched him right back to the store and had the store manager talk to him. Now that was a nice man and he told him that what he did was stealing and that it was a crime. That if he took from a store he could go to jail. Now I think it effected both boys, because to this day, neither one will even drink a soda in the supermarket until I pay for it, even if I tell them to just hold on to the bottle and show it to the checkout person and tell them that you  drank the drink. No, no they will not drink it or eat anything from the cart, even a cookie from a bag full of cookies. Actually I let it be. It’s a good lesson. Let them be scrupulously honest. It’s ok. We live our lives that way too. In fact, as we leave a store to this day, collegeman still asks me if I have paid for everything. (I guess politics is not in their future)

But still I worry about the authority figure who thinks it’s funny to harass someone who is defenseless or without the ability to fight back in anyway.  What do I tell my children, if the people who are supposed to protect them turn into the bullies they’ve had to deal with all their lives? There are post incident actions, sure. You can file a complaint and bring a lawsuit. But what do you tell them to do in the middle of the incident other than to be good and try to be respectful? I wish I had an answer for them and I wish I had an answer for that poster in the AWN website. But I don’t and that scares and saddens me.


Until next time,




About Elise "Ronan"

#JeSuisJuif #RenegadeJew... Life-hacks, book reviews, essayist...
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9 Responses to Police and Aspies: No Answer

  1. J. says:

    My eldest has had legal issues, and has them still today. If I knew then what I know now, I would have made certain that he knew that he knew that he knew NOT to answer ANY questions from police w/o a parent & lawyer present.The anxiety levels make him admit to things he has not done,just to make it stop.I would have a paper in his wallet(because he was taken by police from SCHOOL, not home) that said "I have Aspergers, AD/HD, and BP. I have been instructed by my parents & lawyer not to answer w/o them."ph#

  2. Elise says:

    J- I have told my children time and time again that if they are ever questioned by the police they are to say nothing and demand they call us as their lawyers. I hope that if the situation ever arises they do jsut that. But you know, even an NT will be intimidated by police. Do you remember the abuse of Monica Lewisky by officials. For ten hours they questioned her and even though she demanded a lawyer they refused o get her one and kept questioning her. Sometimes it is the police over stepping their bounds. Also people should know that if a child is under age, the police really are not suppsoed to question them without a parent present. But that doesn\’t help those of us with "adult" aspies, does it?

  3. J. says:

    The police manipulate parents as well. They will tell you that it is standard procedure to question the kid, and you don\’t need to be there, and it really isn\’t standard procedure to have a lawyer for such an informal questioning. It\’s important to know that if you say ok, you have waived your child\’s right to an atty. I declined their request, and since my son hadn\’t even been Mirandized, just hauled out of school, he was home again soon. Juvenile Justice is one messed up system.

  4. Karen says:

    When my son was ten, he was accused of shoplifting. We live in a town of 400 people, and the folks who owned the mini Mart knew him. What he\’d done was put aside a lollipop for his sister in his back pocket while he was counting his penny candy — the owner knew this is Trevor\’s habit, but a busybody told him that Trevor was stealing. Trevor totally blew into a meltdown, which made it worse. (This happened before we even knew that Trevor had Asperger\’s.) Since then, we really emphasized that he *must* remain calm if ever questioned by police or other authority figures. Happily, this has worked — because Trevor comes across as "different", people are suspicious of him and there have been a couple of occasions when police have talked to him. (He\’s now a grown young man of 20.) It makes him angry, and he comes home to gripe about it to me, but he controls himself while in the situation.Nice to know that mine is not the only Aspie kid that grumbles under his breath. I\’ve tried to explain to Trevor just how inappropriate this is, but he claims he\’s not aware of doing it. Some things you make progress on; other things we\’re still working on.

  5. C... says:

    Your blog post about this topic really hits home. My son is an Aspie and he growls under his breath. He knows that stealing is bad and his honesty astounds me sometimes and scares me. You are right in worrying about police officers because many are very aggressive, insecure and angry people. They probably would see negative things in autistic people because they don\’t make eye contact and they move away from people that get too close like my son does. I would hope that police would get the most training in dealing with people with disabilities as they here "to serve and protect". They should also get extensive psychological testing so that we don\’t end up with all these angry racist people on the force that just want to ordain their own brand of law against all people they see unfit including autistic kids. thanks for posting your concerns, many of us can relate… I don\’t use MSN to blog but I do have a blog at http://c-writing.blogspot.com and I follow you on Twitter – I am cwriting.

  6. Elise says:

    Thanks Karen and Claudia and Jane for your comments. It never fails to amaze me how all our children have so much in common even though they are all so different. I have actually spoken to hubby about an education program here in town since he knows the chief of police. I hope it gets done. In the meantime, we continue to teach behavior, anxiety control, voice modulation and above all we teach our boys their rights under law.

  7. Trish says:

    My son with AS has been questioned twice by campus police twice this year when there were incidents that seemed to put him in the time and place to be a suspect. Because the campus police handled the first incident calmly and reasonably (in his words), he was more comfortable in being questioned the second time. From his report, the second questioning actually sounded like something that could have gone terribly bad if he hadn\’t had that first incident that put his confidence in their good reason. Apparently, someone had been taking potshots at kids on campus with an AirSoft rifle. Witnesses described a guy in an orange coat – and Dear Son is well known for his orange jackets, so it was not long before the campus police were knocking on the door of his dorm room. DS was only just out of nightly shower, probably opened the door wearing PJ pants and nothing else. The police asked his name and then asked where he had been this evening. DS described his wandering around campus, had been hoping to catch the bus over to the movie theater, but the bus never arrived, so he went looking for anyone hanging around to play cards, etc. After no luck, he returned to his room and took a shower. The officer then asked him where he kept his Airsoft gun – this is where a problem might have happened if he\’d been feeling more wary – he doesn\’t own an airsoft gun and told the officer. If he\’d been feeling anxious, I can imagine that his defensive voice would have made the officers believe he was hiding something. DS is is a large man, 6\’2" and @250 pounds, and when angry can be very intimidating. Luckily, he was at ease. As it is, they asked him the same questions several times (where were you tonight, do you have an airsoft gun, have you ever used an airsoft gun, do you know anyone who has one, tell me again where you were walking on campus?) which did make him nervous and agitated but he says that the way they handled an investigation earlier in the year made him feel confident that they were fair and reasonable people. The officer told him to stay in his room for the night (he wasn\’t going anywhere anyway) because they might be back, and then never returned. So I think he might have had a night of nerves that he might be getting in trouble for something he didn\’t do, but when he told me about it the next day he was very calm and took the perspective of reporting a funny thing that happened to him the night before. You can probably imagine the tizzy his story sent me into. I wanted very much to call the campus police and have a friendly chat with them about autism and asperger syndrome and ask if they have my son flagged out in anyway so that any officer approaching him has a little background information about who they\’re going to be talking to… but DS implored me to leave it alone and not press the issue. As he is an adult (20) I have to respect his position and I suspect I might be told by the campus officers that what information they have regarding my son is not for my consumption. So, I\’m just thankful that they do seem to be calm and careful with my son and hope that his experiences with these officers will help influence his reaction to any he may encounter in the future.

  8. Elise says:

    Trish- Your son\’s experience seems like a positive one in encounering the campus police. I am glad that everything went well and that the incident is closed. The disability director at collegeman\’s school actually introduced him to the campus police and they are well aware of his autism and his seizure disorder. I do agree with you that being that they are adults we have to let them make certain decisions, like not having mommie interact with persons at school (oh so easier said than done). But I can feel the blood pressure rise and the mommie anxiety set in in just reading your story.

  9. John says:

    In the United Kingdom Police Officers are trained to look beyond the obvious and try to "read" people rather than just react with agression and violence when someome is rude or does not give the "right" body language or eye contact.If you are liable to react negatively when someone does not treat you with courtesy don`t be a Police Officer get a job in a factory or somewhere else where you don`t have to deal with the public.Nobody should have to tread on eggshells or defer to P.O.s -Police Services (Force is inappropriate in 2010) should train their officers in diversity and not expect people who are Autistic to change their eye contact to avoid being arrested.Black people don`t have to paint themselves white before leaving the house so why should Auties/Aspies act NT when we ain`t.

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