Autism SWAT Teams, Sign Me Up

| by Val

Reports have recently pointed out the difficulties when law enforcement unexpectedly comes upon persons exhibiting autistic tendencies or physical mannerisms and movements that are not ordinary. To law enforcement the individual might seem intoxicated or otherwise suspicious. Newsweek points to two cases; one involved an 18 year old standing outside of a bar seeming intoxicated, and the other involved an 18 year old who was simply sitting in a grassy area outside of a elementary school library. Both situations did not end well.

Many law enforcement agencies are engaging in training sessions so that they might be prepared for interactions involving those within the spectrum of autism, and the exacerbation that might occur. There will be advantage in training public servants in total, not just law enforcement, since those more severely affect in the autism spectrum have been given increasing opportunities to be involved in typical public settings.

School districts have had quite a bit of experience in catching up to the need for preparedness with regard to worsening presentations in autism. It has been a type of growing pain, so to speak, that most district would probably prefer to avoid if at all possible. Recently, a teen in Ohio was dragged 50 to 100 feet down a hallway. The mother, Denise Powers Fabien, is quoted in this article as saying that what happened to her son, Caleb, should prompt parents and lawmakers to examine Ohio's current standards for training and licensing teachers, aides, and assistants.

My own autistic daughter had the experience of being carried out of a classroom by several teachers during an unexpected worsening years ago. They were just taken by surprise with regard to her presentation on that day because it wasn't within the scope of how she usually behaved. A friend had a similar thing happen to her teen son, and he was somewhat battered due to his teaching team's lack in understanding about how to handle the sudden and unexpected worsening. The intensity of both situations caused non in the room to consider the obvious, why not clear the room of the bystanders? Easily thought of, in hindsight.

In both cases, since the behaviors and physicality demonstrated were outside of the usual behavior, the teachers were taken totally by surprise and did not know how to provide overall safety for everyone in the environment when the outburst occurred. Unfortunately, some within the autism spectrum experience the type of worsening that results in the need for having an intervention plan in place, in case the unexpected occurs. All things considered, the best made plans will not always meet the need. Stuff happens.

My family experienced several years when no plan would work for very long. Here is a reflection about the need for SWAT teams that would have training in dealing with individuals with autism and psychosis.

There seemed to be no help for the most current situation. I called 911 just because I did not know what else to do. They told me if I wanted to, I could have the police come and arrest her. I called the unit and they told me the same thing. In my mind if you call the police on a mentally disturbed person, the likelihood is that they will get hurt; it might increase the violence. SWAT teams for psychotic people do not exist. I did not know if the police received training in order to understand, or even know what to do, in a situation such as ours. No response team for this kind of situation existed. I did not  want to answer her violence with more violence, because the Lord obviously gave me a heart to practice grace in her situations. Sarah seemed to be in a place of destruction on that day and I desperately wanted relief for her. I sent an SOS via email to all the doctors that treat her at Mayo. After that, I went outside for a break since Sarah calmed down. Our next-door neighbor came to talk to me. She told me that she saw Sarah beating us in the car. I offered for her to come in.  She came in to talk to Sarah, and was happy to see her calm and well. She then checked the injuries that Jana and I sustained. I think she understood enough because her son has high functioning autism, but I remain hopeful that their dance remains different from ours.

I must say, we have come a long way since my reflections of the year 2005. It means a lot to see so many doing so much to accommodate those within the autism spectrum.