This is a blog post by Stacie McManus, a proud mom of two teenage boys one of who has autism. Stacie and her family are long time advocates of community integration in the Chicago suburbs
It’s April. Awareness and conversations about autism are in full swing. Now what? I decided a good “April Action” would be to think about ways to build trust and relationships that will help make my 17 year old son with autism safer.
A while ago we had an incident that led to our son being involved with the police as a potential victim or witness. While the officers involved did everything they could to help Jake through the process, it was clear there was a “gap” in his knowledge about and ability to interact with police. He was scared; I was terrified.
There have been several deaths of adults or teens with autism while dealing with police here in Illinois and around the country. As an autism mom it means I worry a lot, but it also means I am looking for solutions. The combination of our interactions with local police and the fear of the “‘what ifs” that haunt me, meant it was time for a plan.
We spoke to our High School Team and they implemented an Emergency ID Card for Jake to carry in his wallet. The card gives Police hints for interacting with my son as well as Emergency contact info. Jake learned what to do with it. His school team did video social stories of him using his emergency card when interacting with police and authority figures. The poor kid had random “authority figures” approaching him in the halls to test his new skill. Imagine having big scary “authority figures” jump out and demand to see your ID, to know who you are and what you are doing. After many reenactments he got the hang of it and can now self advocate!
Next, I contacted the local Police Department and asked if Jake could come in for a tour and meet some officers. As luck would have it they were getting ready to do some “tactical training” and did I think it would be beneficial for Jake to observe? The answer was YES! So we did some pre-teaching and social stories to prepare him for potentially scary situations. The police were in “gear”; masks, holsters, bulletproof vests, rifles (paint ball shells) doing live action drills. Yes, there were pretend bad guys hiding with guns of their own. Yes, it was as loud and scary as you think it would be. Yes, Jake jumped when the “guns” were fired or the police yelled “DOWN ON THE GROUND” to the volunteer bad guys. And yes, it was a great way for Jake to interact and learn in a non threatening situation.
We talked about how the police sometimes yell so loud and it’s scary but it’s so you follow directions. We talked about how the best way for Jake to respond no matter what was to try to stay calm and be respectful. We also talked to the officers about Jake and autism and disability interactions. Jake got to chat, interact and get comfortable with them and vice versa. And Jake being Jake made us all laugh when they offered him a bagel and he told them Police were supposed to eat donuts!
BUT most importantly, Jake got to “see and hear” what emergency scenarios might be like when the Police need to be involved and the Policemen spent a little time getting to know my little man. A win win in my book!
For me “April Action” meant asking for help and ideas and then making them happen! Thank you to our local Police Department and School Team for helping make Jake a little bit safer this April.