Police and the Integration of Autistics

Our latest story is part reporting, part editorial hailing from our neighbor to the north, Canada. Michele Mandel covers an incident at the Fairbank Memorial Day Care Centre where Toronto Police are under fire from autism advocacy groups for their July 28th handling of a nine-year-old boy with Asperger’s Syndrome who had to be physically restrained after throwing a tantrum. Police handcuffed the boy for five minutes before the mobile crisis intervention team arrived and calmed him down. While autism groups protest that less drastic restraint measures could have been employed, police say the boy was a danger to himself and waiting for the crisis team could have posed a safety hazard.

The boy blamed his tantrum on being bullied during the lunch hour. Mandel quoted him saying he holds his mother’s hand whenever he sees a cop car. Naturally, parents of autistic children are furious, at least according to Autism Ontario. The executive director says they offer training for law enforcement on handling people with mental disabilities, but few have taken advantage of the program unlike their colleagues in Ottawa.

I have some question on the date’s accuracy in the published article. If the incident did occur on July 28th, having an article published now would be horrendously ill-timed. There is a possibility the story has a typo and the incident happened on August 28th, which would better justify releasing the story on its publication date (August 30th). With parents as emotionally charged as they are, notwithstanding parents of autistic children, waiting an entire month before expressing outrage over a controversial situation makes little sense.

Regarding the story itself, law enforcement is almost always a hotbed when it comes to controversy. This doesn’t suggest an antagonistic relationship between journalists and police (you need to establish a positive connection if assigned to a crime beat), but material that suggests public service officials aren’t performing their job description makes for saucy news material. Generally, this controversy arises when police are seen abusing their role. In Mandel’s story, the argument is police not considering the well-being of the child with Asperger’s Syndrome who had to be restrained. When pursuing an event as it’s occurring, police have to be prepared for rapid responses to a multitude of situations to protect themselves and/or the people they intervene. The “gray area” illuminates how people who are trained to keep communities safe can adapt to the autism spectrum, as their emotional output doesn’t fall within expected norms. This story may spur Toronto’s law enforcement to seek more training, or lead to further coverage on public readiness to handle a population prone to mental outbursts.

On the story itself, I’m not familiar with the ethical standards of Canadian journalism, but the reporter appears to side with autism organizations and suggesting the response was mishandled. Mandel uses strong words and questions why less forceful measures weren’t used to begin with, creating the impression that Toronto police were the “bad guys” in the case. The discussion shouldn’t be about who’s right or wrong, but instead included for the ultimate concern of how an increasing number of autistic people throughout the world can be approached.

Featured Photo Courtesy Ernest Doroszuk, Toronto Sun

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Mike Peden
Mike Peden brings a rarely discussed perspective on autism news: he was diagnosed with the disability in 1991. His explorations on autism led to an Alliance for Community Media Hometown Video Award in 2008 in the Documentary - Public Awareness category, and he currently deciphers evolving trends in autism coverage.
Mike Peden

Mike Peden

Mike Peden brings a rarely discussed perspective on autism news: he was diagnosed with the disability in 1991. His explorations on autism led to an Alliance for Community Media Hometown Video Award in 2008 in the Documentary - Public Awareness category, and he currently deciphers evolving trends in autism coverage.

0 thoughts on “Police and the Integration of Autistics

  • September 4, 2011 at 11:31 pm
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    All parents have unique stresses as the result of raising children, but what is being done to help parents cope?

    My name is Crystal Lee, and I am a doctorate student in clinical psychology at Baylor University. For my dissertation I am studying stress and ways of coping with stress in parents. My hope is to use the data from my dissertation to create an effective way to help parents cope with stress.

    I am looking for parents of children ages 5-12 in three categories:

    1. Parents of children with an Autism Spectrum Disorder
    2. Parents of children with Type 1 Diabetes
    3. Parents of children with no diagnoses

    If you meet the above criteria, please take this survey, which takes 30-45 minutes to complete: https://baylor.qualtrics.com/SE/?SID=SV_0GJF7ldjuBwBWEk

    If you do not meet the above criteria, please consider forwarding the survey to any parents you know that fit the above criteria.

    People who complete the survey can participate in a drawing for one of three $50 giftcards to Amazon.com. Additionally, people who refer others to the survey get their name added into the drawing for each person they refer.

    If you have any questions regarding the study, you may contact me at Crystal_Lee1@Baylor.edu

    Thank you for your time and help,

    Crystal Lee, M.S.
    Doctoral Student
    Department of Psychology and Neuroscience
    Baylor University

    Reply
  • September 4, 2011 at 5:13 pm
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    Mental people need to wear a band so that police can identify them.  They’re obviously not threats.  Police tend to be average in intelligence and don’t always assess the situation with appropriate action.

    The police are usually nice to me, though they’ve taken advantage of my handicap on two separate occasions.  Once making me confess to something I didn’t do to avoid the psych ward and, two, writing stuff that I didn’t say.  Well, I guess three times.  They tracked me like they would a gang member for awhile.

    This was so that they could use their weapons on me.

    Reply

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