Over the past several months autism and law enforcement have been in the news for all the wrong reasons. It almost seems like it is happening on a monthly basis with sometimes tragic endings. Of course, what we don't hear, is when officers do have the right training and a crisis is averted.
My first true actions as an employee of TouchPoint was to give, over the course of four months, 36 presentations to various officers of Saint Louis County. Word got around and in October of 2010 I gave a presentation at a Missouri Department of Conservation office in the southeast part of the state. From that presentation I was invited to present at the statewide conference which was held two days ago.
It was a big honor to be able to present there and even more so since the story I read last week about a tragic ending between an officer and a person on the spectrum. Because of this I thanked the audience for allowing me to present because, perhaps, an ending like the ones on the news can be avoided. Then, after I was done, the parent who set up my southeast presentation, who is also a conservation officer, spoke for a couple minutes and what he said brought a tear to my eye.
Just two months after I spoke in southeast an officer got a call about two suspicious individuals walking around. The officer responded, found the individuals, and stopped them. He was in his car with the two people to his left outside the window when a call over the radio came. The noise was a raspy squelchy noise and one of the people threw himself onto the hood in a forceful, awkward way. Right away the officer thought that this was a drug case and he became highly aggravated and was about to make an obvious arrest when the person's friend mentioned, "Yeah, my friend has autism, he doesn't like a lot of noises."
The parent speaking at the conference then said that the officer on that call, had he not seen me just two months prior, would have had no concept of what that was or what it meant. Instead of knowing what to do all the mistakes would have been made and it would not have ended well. What the officer did do was reduce the volume on the radio and made the environment as still as possible and a crisis was averted.
I have no idea my impact even though people tell me. It's hard to accept that what I do has any value because, to me, I simply do it and that's the way it is. However, when I heard that story and that my presentation very well could have saved a person from a traumatic experience, or worse, I was shaken. I heard that story and I wished I could speak to every officer in the country. With the autism numbers the way they are it isn't a matter of if an officer is going to come across a person on the spectrum, but rather when. If they don't know what it looks like, or what could potentially be going on in the brain of that person on the spectrum, then mistakes can be made. If an officer hasn't had autism training the mistakes, at the time, won't seem like mistakes. The need for them to understand is growing day by day and each time I hear one of those stories my heart breaks because it quite simply doesn't need to happen and I am thankful the Saint Louis area, and the Missouri Department of Conservation is so proactive to getting the information to their officers.