By Kodey Toney
In the news lately there has been a great deal of talk about law enforcement and children on the spectrum. I know this is not something new, but in light of a situation in Covington, Kentucky, where an 8-year-old boy and 9-year-old girl were having discipline issues and were handcuffed around the biceps by a resource officer to keep them from hurting anyone or themselves, I feel compelled to speak about this.
Let me start by saying that I have friends in law enforcement and I highly respect the work they do with the communities in the area. They put their lives on the line each day to help protect and serve and for that I am truly grateful.
I also know that when they are going through whatever training they have, whether that be Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (C.L.E.E.T.) certification, Highway Patrol School, or some other police academy training, very little is given in the way of how to handle people with disabilities. This includes developmental disabilities and mental disabilities. They have more important things to deal with such as keeping themselves and other alive. I understand that.
However, as a parent of a child with autism I am concerned with how they will react when my child is having a bad moment, becomes a discipline issue, and begins having an uncontrollable meltdown in their presence, and they have to find a way to handle the situation. Their first reaction is to control the person and in turn control the situation by whatever means are necessary. This can tend to make the situation worse in the case of someone on the spectrum.
What I would like to propose is that all law enforcement, and emergency personnel for that matter, be trained in ways to cope with citizens with disabilities. This works on several levels. Let me start by saying that with a 72 percent increase in diagnosis of autism since 2007, and 1 in 68 being diagnosed, the number of people in society with the disorder is staggering. That is only the numbers of autism and does not include other disorders. This means that the chance of engaging a person with a disability is rising each day. So, in order to avoid a bad situation, and potential law suit, we should arm our officers with as much knowledge as possible to help protect those on the spectrum, those around them, and the officers themselves.
This isn’t just on the police departments though. The parents have the responsibility to make sure that the children are comfortable with the police. They must try to introduce them to an officer every chance they get. If you see a police officer, have your child talk to them. Make sure they are as comfortable as possible around them. Too often we paint this dark shadow on our police and make our children afraid of them. That backfires when they are lost, hurt, or in need of help and are scared to approach the police to ask for assistance.
This will be amplified when your child has been wandering and officers are out trying to track them down, or when they are having a meltdown. When the officer approaches them they will run or try to avoid the situation.
We also need to contact the local 911 and emergency dispatchers so they can add information into the systems (find a non-emergency number; do not dial 911 to do this). They can note that someone in the house may have a disability and need a cautious approach. This will work wonders in case of fires, medical emergencies, etc.
Resource officers in schools should be a number one priority since they will be the most likely to encounter a child on the spectrum.
The Pervasive Parenting Center is offering FREE training to any department willing to dedicate their time to a brief session. We will work with ways to approach someone with a disability and potentially avoid a law suit. If anyone is interested please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As I said before, I think law enforcement agencies in the area do a great job. I just want them to be better prepared in case they every have the misfortune to have to deal with one of these situations. I want to help the families as well.