Declaring One’s Autism Won’t Do Anything To Combat Police Ineptitude

I don’t think that declaring that one is autistic will change anything.

I’ve seen lately a bunch of news articles talking about new rules whereby people who have behavioral disabilities, autism in particular, will be allowed to declare their disability so that the police can handle them properly. Before we go any further, let me point out that I’m using their language here. I don’t think autism is a behavioral disability in and of itself. However, autism can be linked with conditions that can be disabling in some contexts.

I also think that in some jurisdictions, the declaration of disability is not merely allowed, but mandated by the jurisdiction. I cannot go over all cases in this article. There’s already a problem in those places where they merely allow it, mandating it will only make things worse.

I don’t think this is going to fix anything, overall. Yes, maybe in some encounters with the police, a declaration of behavioral disability will change the outcome. However, generally speaking, this won’t change the outcome of a police encounter. Oh, do note that I’m talking about the policing system in the USA. This might not apply where you live.

The problem in the USA is that the police is trained to escalate. I don’t care how many supposed deescalation classes they are supposedly taking at the academy. At the end of the day, these classes don’t make any difference, generally speaking. What we see in the news is that the police will escalate encounters, and harm people who are themselves harmless. Those who bear the brunt of this attitude are the minorities. These may be racial minorities, sexual minorities, medical minorities, or any other minority that will appear different from the norm.

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It is my opinion that rather than trying to carve out exceptions for the minorities, the police should take deescalation to heart, for everyone, instead of paying lip service to it. See, I don’t think that someone who is foundationally trained to escalate encounters will magically turn on a switch to deescalate when faced with those people that a cop should handle differently. This is just not going to happen.

There’s also the issue that some people, for whatever private reason they have, do not want to advertise their behavioral disability, or their autism. Some people can face stigmatization if they slap a label on their car or their house saying they are autistic. What will happen if the police screws up handling an autistic person who decided not to declare it? Will the cops be excused then, as they are so often excused now due to qualified immunity?

Moreover, assuming the system were to give some advantage to disabled people in their encounters with the police, I’m wondering if some miscreants will fake disability. “I’m sorry. I did not mean to take this chocolate bar without paying. I have OCD.” This is a long shot, but it is possible.

Oh, and what about those self-diagnosed autistic people? The autistic community overwhelmingly recognizes us as autistic. (I say us because I’m self-diagnosed.) Will the police require that someone who says they are autistic have a formal diagnosis from somewhere? Will the police disbelieve someone who does not appear autistic enough and ignore the need to handle them differently. Will they insist that the only real autistic people are those who look like Rain Man or Sheldon Cooper?

Unfortunately, my advice to people with behavioral disabilities is still to keep their distances from the cops. I moreover don’t see any advantage in pre-declaring your disability. I don’t think a sticker will help you. Now, when you are faced with a cop, then maybe you want to say that you have sensory sensitivities, for instance, and ask for the cop to turn off his siren. Wait until you’re faced with a cop.

If you need help with someone who has a behavioral disability, and is in a crisis, and you think they need help in the moment, consider these options, in order:

  1. Offer to take them to an appropriate mental health facility. You’d be surprised how often they will accept the help.
  2. Call the local Mobile Crisis Team.
  3. Call 911, but ask to be put into contact with the Crisis Intervention Team. Make sure no cops are involved.

This varies by jurisdiction. The important thing is to avoid calling in the cops. Only if these methods fail, should you consider involving the cops. Do also note that the keyword in the above is crisis. Don’t do any of this unless you are faced with a crisis. A kid having a meltdown is not generally speaking a crisis. It may be annoying. Deal with it.

The above advice is what I remember from a class given by the National Alliance on Mental Illness. These people are experts at dealing with crises. I took the class to help an ex of mine who had schizophrenia.

Ultimately, I think the notion that we should self-declare our behavioral disabilities is well-meant but ignores the reality that we face in day to day life, and ignores the very problems that are at the root of policing in the USA.

Train the police to handle people with more humanity, and this will also take care of those with behavioral disabilities.



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One response to “Declaring One’s Autism Won’t Do Anything To Combat Police Ineptitude”

  1. Bill Taroli :neurodiversity: Avatar

    @yourautisticlife Totally agree. Knowing someone is #ActuallyAutistic is only useful if they grok #autism. We all learn through many unfortunate situations that we do not properly educate citizens about minorities and “others” in general.

    Our most recent example was at son’s dental appointment. I see their expressions and hear snide remarks. Why is he in such a bad mood? Because you ignore him when he reports your mistreatment and expect him to be neurotypical. Educate yourselves please. Ugh.

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