For the parent of a child with special needs, navigating everyday activities can be a minefield. Even something as seemingly safe as interacting with law enforcement can turn into a dangerous nightmare for someone with mental health issues. That same interaction can also be difficult for a police officer if he/she is unaware that the person the officer has encountered has special needs. Unfortunately, we have all heard news reports illustrating how these interactions can go horribly wrong in an instant. In an effort to prevent that from happening, the police in one Missouri town have created a directory for people with autism.
As a parent, you undoubtedly want to protect your child from all possible harm. If you are the parent of a child with special needs, you must be even more vigilant to keep your child safe; however, you may not have considered the need to protect your child from the police.
Law enforcement officers interact with citizens under a wide range of conditions and for an equally wide range of reasons. Even when a police officer is dispatched to help in response to a 9-1-1 call, however, the subsequent interaction with citizens can become tense, even dangerous. When an officer encounters someone with Autism, for example, the officer may frighten the individual. Worse still, if the individual is on the high end of the spectrum, he/she may be incapable of explaining to the officer that he/she is autistic. Many common behaviors associated with autism can be read as aggressive or combative to a law enforcement officer, dramatically increasing the likelihood that the interaction will not end well. Autism is hardly the only concern. Numerous other mental health issues and conditions can cause a similar concern for everyone involved.
The Police Directory
The police department in the central Missouri town of Moberly has launched a voluntary autism directory aimed at helping improve officers’ interactions with people on the autism spectrum. Personal information on the form includes names, addresses, descriptions, special tics and more so police can identify and help people who have autism, according to a recent news report.
Police say the goal is to help responders understand what might make a person agitated and how to calm the person down in a stressful situation. Commander Tracey Whearty said gathered information will be for police and first responders only. Moberly police reached out to several groups that deal with mental health issues while formulating the program. They also got help from parents like Nikki and Brett Soendker, who have three children on the autism spectrum. Nikki Soendker is the founder of an autism charity and awareness group. Through that cooperation, the forms were updated with additional information first responders might need to know about a child or adult with autism: Does the person wander? Are there sensory issues that could be upsetting, such as the lights or siren of a police car? Are there challenges with verbalizing?
While some parents applaud the directory, others worry it could be used to discriminate against people with autism. “I can see the good in something like this, but I think that we have all seen too much in history and in movies where registries like this go bad,” said Robyn Schelp, whose son has a rare genetic disorder and cerebral palsy. Others like Lara Wakefield, a parent advocate for people with special needs, and Christina Ingoglia, a parent of a child with Mowat-Wilson syndrome, a rare genetic condition, believe the directory should be expanded to include people with other kinds of disabilities. Many children who aren’t on the autism spectrum still have disabilities that make interactions with people in emergency situations difficult, Ingoglia said. While Schelp has concerns, she also sees possible benefits. “What if mom or dad is unconscious and the kid needs help?” she asked. “Someone needs to know this information in order to help.”
Contact Special Needs Planning Attorneys
If you are the parent of a child with special needs, please join us for an upcoming FREE seminar to learn more about special needs planning within your estate plan or contact the experienced special needs planning attorneys at Amen, Gantner & Capriano, Your Estate Matters, LLC by calling (314) 966-8077 to schedule an appointment.