This guest is post is by Phillip Hain, Executive Director, Autism Speaks Los Angeles Chapter.
Only upon reading further – about ¾ through the story – did I notice the statement that the man had autism and learning disabilities. My heart instantly sank. I felt horrible about my preconceived thoughts, and now worse because of the added circumstance. Reading the subsequent details doesn’t offer much else. The officers say they heard a noise and the victim was acting suspiciously. He quickly approached them and they claim he appeared to “pull something from his waistband,” according to a spokesperson for the police department.
This occurred just past midnight so it was dark. I don’t think we’ll ever know the real facts. Is it fair to second-guess the officers who had to make a decision in one instant? But let’s pause for a moment and think – if the officers knew just a little bit more about autism, it’s possible the outcome may have been different.
Autism Speaks developed the Autism Safety Project specifically for this purpose. It provides First Responders with information and guidelines for communicating with individuals with autism spectrum disorder in emergency situations. In addition, the Los Angeles Chapter of the Autism Society of America has developed a training program especially for the Los Angeles Police Department and implemented it over the last year, going around to their various stations to teach officers how to recognize autism.
I have a 17-year-old son with autism. He is high functioning, somewhat independent, and likes walking around town. But that doesn’t shield him from the possibility of something going wrong in a moment. I shudder to think that he could have ended being the name in the paper.
The resources are there – but they need to be implemented to be effective. We can only hope that increased training, awareness and knowledge of police, firefighters and all emergency personnel prevent such a tragedy from occurring again.