Punished For Being Autistic? (Autism/Asperger’s and the Police)

My last blog post talked about Hiding My Asperger’s Quirks.  It talked about how difficult it is for people like me to “fit in” with a world that is mainly designed for neurotypical thinkers. Back in May, I graduated from high school. While I do really look forward to experiencing college life, there are many worries I have when it comes to being a young adult with an Autistic Spectrum Diagnosis. Every parent fears for their child, and the story I am going to describe in this post fully explains why I fear for my safety and mental health.

The story is about a young man named Reginald “Neli” Latson from the small town of Statford, Virginia. The story begins on the morning of Monday, May 24, 2010. Neli was sitting in the grass outside the local library, waiting for it to open for the day. A nearby school crossing guard called the police, and reported a “suspicious black male who may have a gun.” Neli became tired of waiting for the library to open, so he decided to leave the library. He was then approached by a school resources officer, Deputy Thomas Calvary, and he was immediately searched for the suspected gun. Absolutely no weapons of any kind were found in his possession.  The officer then asked Neli for his name, but he refused to give it to him. This was because he perceived the officer was trying to harass him. So, he refused and tried to get away and stated he committed no crime. Deputy Calvary then grabbed him from behind and tried to arrest him without reading his Miranda rights or calling for backup. Neli resisted arrest and both he and the officer were “subsequently injured”.

Neli was held for 11 days without bail at the Rappahonack Reigonal Jail. The police allowed his school counselor to relay messages to Lisa Alexander (his mother). Ms. Alexander was only allowed one visit during that time period. During that particular visit, Neli was “in a catatonic state.” He was unable to speak! Later on, police interrogaters reported he was “nonresponsive” and “disturbed”. The judge ordered him to be transferred into a mental institution for 30 days of treatment.

Following the 30 days, Neli was then sent back to prison for another year. For eight months he has spent time in torturous isolation. 

Here is a YouTube video where Neli himself describes the harassment he received during interrogation.

Here is a YouTube video where a woman described the incident, the racial harassment and similar cases of injustice that have occurred at the same prison

The trial for the incident lasted three days, and Neli was found guilty of assaulting a law enforcement officer. The judge tried to push for him to serve 10 and 1/2 years in prison. His sentence was lowered. The judge decided to give Neli two years in prison instead of 10 1/2. Neli’s only defense was the he was officially diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, the same diagnosis which I have lived with for my entire life. I have no desire to explain what Asperger’s is because I have already done so in my past 78 blog posts.

So, what are the thoughts that have gone through your mind after hearing about this story? I am going to say this right now, my blood boils every time I hear about it. I am a firm believer that law enforcement officials nationwide need to be informed about Autism and Asperger’s. Until I heard about the situation with Neli, I never had any idea this lack of knowledge was becoming a problem. I want to challenge my point of view with another story about Autism. This story is very different from Neli’s.

In order for a law enforcement officer to understand Autistic, there is one thing they must address first and foremost. Dr. Temple Granin pointed out in her TED lecture that Autism is a continuum of traits. You have the “severely Autistic” non verbal types, the geeky/nerdy kids who have lots of Asperger’s quirks, the kids who can’t function without assistance and the kids who are incredibly gifted. This story dates back to the year 2008. Adam Race was thirteen years old, weighed over 235 pounds and diagnosed with severe Autism. He and his family resided in Bertha Minesota and attended a Roman Catholic church named The Church of Saint Joseph. The church filed a restraining order which banned the family from attending Sunday Mass. Despite being ordered not to attend, they showed up anyway. The reason for the restraining order was because he demonstrated behavior that caused a “growing concern for the safety of parishioners.” 

Now, you may be asking me a big question.  “What has Adam possibly done to cause this restraining order?”  The reports from The Rev. Daniel Walz stated he would hastily bolt out of his pew and nearly knock over elderly parishioners in the process. He has struck children in mass. He sometimes spat and urinated. His family tries to restrain him, but it causes him to fight it. He assaulted a girl and pulled her onto his lap. On top of this, he ran into the parking lot, went inside two vehicles and revved their engines during Easter Mass. Walz also stated he would demonstrate self injurious behaviors, such as hitting himself in the head. 

A controversy immediately ensued when mother Carol Race decided to get the press involved. Some people say the church’s actions were too harsh, while others say they should have gone with the restraining order. I happen to be in the second vote, because it seems to me that Carol was the problem. The liturgy of the Roman Catholic church is very orderly. However, unexpected situations still can occur that can cause the child to become upset. Here are some quotes from the press release. 

Most of the time, Adam can walk through a crowd of people in a patient and gentle way. And because our family leaves the church service early, there should not be anyone during these times to “bolt through.” 

The worst of Adam’s behaviors resulted from lack of accommadations or cooperative discussions. Case in point: The car-revving incident. Normally our family left church before the closing song, which would allow three minutes before the congregation left. During Lent, Fr. Walz ommited the closing song and failed to ask the congregation to wait to leave until our family had left first. 

Carol said they would normally sit in the back of the church or in the crying room, therefore it would be easy for them to get up and leave the church before the recessional hymn. For any church leader, there is a lot to remember when it comes to preparing for worship. It is next to impossible for the priest to do everything by himself. While that is what acolytes and lay readers are for, what happens if they don’t show up for mass? The worship leader must perform tasks that acolytes and lay readers are assigned (lighting candles, opening the leaders book to the correct page, reciting scripture readings, setting up communion, leading communion, greeting parishioners before and after mass.)

The church has offered for the family to sit in the crying room and watch mass on a television feed. They also offered meditation through a local Protestant minister. Because Carol refused these options, so they decided to go through with the restraining order which banned him from mass. It seems to me that Carol is a “my way or the highway” kind of a parent, the kind I really can’t stand. None of her statements in the press release are about the safety and welfare of the other parishioners. Every parent needs to teach their child limits, whether they are Autistic or not. Here are some “what if” questions I have if Adam actually did injure or kill somebody. 

What if the police actually were called to have him restrained, and the officer had a “chip on his shoulder” and decided to use a taser to restrain him? (This actually did happen to one Autistic child. Read the article!

I must say that both the church and Carol could and should have handled the situation in a much more civil manner. While I don’t know this whole story, I think the church most certainly should have communicated with the family more. They should have tried to figure out ways to “enter his mind”, similar to how Elaine Hall did with her son Neal. I also believe the national news outlets should not have been contacted. Carol was just trying to grab attention to herself because the situation was not going her way.

So, the burning question is “How can we inform law enforcement about Autism and Asperger’s?” This is still a difficult question to answer, because the stories I shared about Neli and Adam are different. If you have a child with Asperger’s, I recommend the parent/guardian contacts all local emergency services (police, fire, ambulance) and use these questions as a guideline.

Where do you live? (Make sure you provide your street address and directions to your house. If you live in an apartment, be sure to provide the name of the apartment and room number as well.)

What does your child look like? (Provide a copy of photo identification.)

How can they reach you? (work phone, home phone, cell phone, email address, street address, pager)

Does your child have health issues? (sensory, medical and dietary restrictions) 

Where does your child like to “hang out” in their spare time? (Provide specific information. For example, if they like to hang out at Best Buy and buy video games, make sure you say the gaming department.) 

Does your child drive? (Provide specific description of the vehicle(s), license plate number and drivers license number.) 

What unusual behaviors does my child exhibit? Why might it cause authorities to think it is suspicious? 

What are your child’s favorite things? (Toys, objects, foods or discussion topics.) 

How does my child interact with others? (Sign langue, picture boards, written words)

What potentially dangerous places are in your community? “Enter their mind” and think about why they would be interested in being there. (Be sure to describe what the danger is. Examples: water/electrical/gas sources, elevated areas.) 

Make sure you provide some this information to neighbors and friends who you trust. Now, here are some pointers for your Asperger’s child if they are approached by a law enforcement officer.

1.) Do not attempt to flee the scene. Most police encounters happen unexpectedly, this might cause you to feel uncomfortable. This will cause the officer to think you committed a crime. 

2.) Refrain from making sudden movements. This will also cause the officer to think you are suspicious. 

3.) Let the officer know you are Autistic. (If nonverbal, use sign simple language)

4.) Ask for permission before you go into a glove compartment, pants or coat pocket. Tell the officer what you are getting out, then show it to them. (This will ensure the officer you are not attempting to grab a weapon.) 

5.) Always carry an Autism information card anytime you go out in public. 

6.) If your child is arrested, make sure they appeal for confirmation of the Miranda warning.  

7.) Carry contact information of an advocacy group, trusted friend or trusted neighbor anytime you go out in public. 

I truly hope you enjoyed reading my blog post. I encourage you to visit the website avoiceforneli.com and sign the petition to release him from prison. This is one thing that will help raise awareness about Asperger’s and Autism.

Have a great week!

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“The Angry WordPress Troll” (Trolls vs. Cyber-bullies)

Somebody posted a comment on my blog that actually amused me, because it shows the lack of knowledge in many people in America and throughout the world. My account is purposely set not to put comments on my blog until they are approved by me. I logged on WordPress, marked it as spam and deleted it as soon as I received the notification email. The comment read “All Autistic people are out of control animals who should be euthanized”. I immediately deleted it. I’ve unapproved comments that have been written by people before, but nothing downright ignorant like this. I think it is very important to not only address this issue, but to be insightful about why people “troll” on internet forums.

I want to start off by explaining what a troll is. A troll is a person who posts provocative comments on a message board just for the sole purpose of making people angry.  Trolls mainly post on forum websites where people express their opinions about controversial issues. For example, If a gay or lesbian person person talks about their life, they post derogatory words like “fagot” or “dyke”. They judgmentally quote bible verses and tell them how much they feel the person’s life is an “abomination”. Every single troll is different. There are some who are very smart and others are not so smart. Very many of them use their personal experiences as an excuse to disrespect other people’s opinions on an issue. I look back and think about the person who posted the comment on my blog, and they may have experienced problems with a sibling or family member on the severe side of the spectrum. I’ve stated before that kids on the severe side of the Autistic Spectrum can be very difficult to deal with, especially when they are part of the family. Kids on the severe end of the Autistic Spectrum don’t know how to speak, therefore they don’t know how to express their emotions. They resort to screaming, yelling and throwing objects because they don’t know how express what is bothering them. I wrote a post a few weeks ago that talked about a controversial video by Autism Speaks. It was titled “Autism Every Day”. One of the mothers told a story about how her son ran out to the middle of a busy city street without a shirt or shoes on. She actually had to call the police to look for him. With that being said, I most certainly am not trying to claim that issues with an Autistic family member is a good excuse. It will only make the person look worse.

Now, I want to explain why I made the decision to delete the comment. Trolls are like bullies in some ways, but you really can’t confront them because they are on the internet. I’ve had discussions with many people who may think it is rude to delete a troll comment, because they feel the person is entitled to their own opinion. That statement may be true, but the comment is going to be read by a lot of people and it will definitely make other people angry. Don’t understand? I am going to use an off topic example to help you. You are at a family member’s birthday party, and you grab a box of matches for the candles. You get the match lit when all of a sudden you bump into something, then the match falls out of your hand and catches the curtains on fire. You would be surprised how many people would try to fight the fire instead of getting out of the house. A troll wants to see you “start a fire” by saying something disrespectful back to them.

There is one thing a person should also keep in mind before you delete a troll from your blog or forum page. Most of them usually go away after a few days, but there are a few who will keep making disrespectful comments until the person can’t take it anymore. They are definitely what I consider a cyber bully. I never received any more thoughtless comments from this person or anybody else. This is really the only time they should be reported to an administrator of the website you are using. These types of trolls are cyber bullies. Most of the forums and social networking sites I use have policies against this, and people who violate them should have their account permanently deactivated. You should not only keep tabs of what the person said, but you should also keep tabs of the date and time it was written. If reporting the user to an administrator does not work, then local law enforcement should be contacted. This is especially true if the comments are of a threatening nature. Even if it is something as simple as “I’ll kick your butt!” Every computer is equipped with something called an IP (Internet Protocol) address. Law enforcement can track it and find exactly where the person accesses internet from, but they do not have the automatic capability to find out who they are. Internet threats should never be taken lightly, regardless of whether or not you know the person.

Trolls and cyber bullies are different in some ways, but similar in others. When I encounter trolls, I have learned that I should just shrug my shoulders and not respond to them. I have to realize that I am a better person than they will ever be, and I know they are taking their bitterness about an issue by disrespecting the person. Like I said at the beginning, there are some trolls who actually amuse me. They may be intelligent, but they write comments that make them sound like the complete opposite. With this in mind, hopefully you have have better understanding of trolls. Please pass this advice onto any person you know who may experience this.

Thank you for reading, and I will be back next week.


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