Parents of children with autism are undoubtedly incredibly attentive to their children. As their child develops, their hope is that one day they can live independently and safely. But what if you’re a parent to a child that faces social obstacles not only because of their autism, but also because of the color of their skin?
As the public has neared witness to in the last few months, the innocent killings of black males is on the rise. Parents of color, specifically those of African American or Black communities, are taking action by educating their children on how to navigate crossing paths with police or law enforcement. This worry and action is something that parents of children with autism are struggling to engage with their children in. According to Thinkpress.org, as of July 2016, police had killed at least 800 Americans in that year alone, many of whom were people of color, disabled, or had a mental health condition. David Dennis, Jr. writes, “my biggest fear is what happens if a cop sees my son and feels threatened because my son doesn’t fit within a cop’s normative ideas of proper behavior.” As autism is referred to as “an invisible disability” it may not come of shock that individuals with autism often fall victim to misunderstandings with law enforcement.
In July 2016, Charles Kinsey, an black male, who was shot by accident as police tried to detain the man with autism Kinsey was a caretaker for. The unforgiving misunderstanding took place when officers believed that Arnaldo Eliud Rios Soto, the man with severe autism, did not respond to their demands to stand down. Officers believed that the toy truck he was holding was a weapon, and proceeded to fire at Arnaldo. As Kinsey attempted to calm Arnaldo and notify officers of his autism and his lack of a firearm, Kinsey was caught in the fire and shot in his arm. Thankfully, Kinsey survived.
Kinsey’s experience was just one of many that both individuals of color and individuals with special needs face with unjustified aggression from law enforcement. This urges parents to find ways in which they can teach their child to stay safe in the event of danger. Every parent plays the role of an advocate for their child, and this advocacy has brought many local law enforcement officials to take action to educating their employees and community members of autism and related disorders.
Actress, Holly Robinson Peete shared in an article with Huffington Post about how her panel discussion with the Los Angeles Police Department which had a positive impact on the local community. Peete expressed, “Our town hall was everything I wanted it to be. We listened to each other and kept our emotions in check with a common goal of developing understanding and awareness. We all agreed that the more familiarity and relationships cops had inside the areas they work, the more invested and less fearful they will be.” Peete, an African American woman, has a 19 year old son on the autism spectrum.
Alfred Olongo, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Grey, Sandra Bland, Tony Robinson, Treyvon Martin, and Kayden Clarke are just a few of the losses we have witnessed over the last few years that have fell to their untimely death at the hands of law enforcement.
At a young age, we teach children to look to the police for help. But, now who will help them? Who will understand their needs in an emergency situation? Is it worth the risk? In this situation, awareness does not suffice. Trainings and workshops should be mandatory to educate law enforcement officials on how to best engage with individuals with developmental or mental disabilities in emergency, and non-emergency situations. As Black History Month comes to a close, the American Autism Association not only seeks to empower the autism community, but additionally shine a light on the individuals making strides in the autism communities of color through education and advocacy.