In a day and age when one in 68 children is diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), there is a high probability that somewhere, someplace, sometime, someone will have an encounter with an ASD diagnosed individual. These encounters are often unpleasant for all because the affliction is often misunderstood, resulting in mistreatment of the ASD afflicted person.
When looking at a person it is often impossible to assess their impairment until a more direct interaction occurs. Once an impairment has been realized, the manner of interaction needs to change. Becoming confrontational with an ASD impaired person is not the prescribed method. It only serves to make that individual more agitated, ultimately less responsive and at times, more aggressive.
Take the case of Peter, a 10-year-old diagnosed with autism. In addition, Peter also has processing delay issues, often ignoring the first directive given. Peter, like many boys, enjoys throwing rocks into water. He was doing just that on a recent family outing to Heritage Square which is designated as a, “Family Entertainment Village.”
Peter was throwing rocks into the zip-line pool just watching the ripples when the park owner approached him and asked him to stop. When he received no response from the boy, the owner went face to face with Peter and began yelling at him. The owner became upset that he had to repeat his instructions and quickly banned Peter from the park for life. When Peter’s mom apologized and informed the owner that her son was autistic, he screamed at the mother and said, “I don’t care, get him out of my park now!”
After Peter’s mom explained the confrontation to her fiancé, he approached the park owner to reiterate Peter’s condition and pointed out that the situation could have been handled more professionally. The owner, still irrationally upset, then called the police claiming a physical confrontation was taking place. Four, siren blaring police cars responded within minutes. Peter was traumatized at the thought of going to jail for throwing rocks in the water.
While unfortunate, this confrontation highlights the stigma many autistic individuals face today. Most people are incapable of quickly assessing a situation and altering their response accordingly. It is often easier to prevent the inclusion of an ASD afflicted individual. Misunderstanding often leads to mistreatment.
Allison is a 34-year-old woman with autism. Concerned about the welfare of her mother during a cold January night, she called the police for help. The responding officers found that the switch for the furnace was turned off and began questioning Allison. When the questions became too rapid fire, she informed them she was autistic and that she was becoming more anxious. The officers, however, continued their verbal assault that ultimately led to a physical confrontation during which Allison kicked an officer in the groin. She was then arrested because the officers’ misunderstanding of her autism led to a physical mistreatment.
Highlighted in theses two cases is the fact that the public in general is lacking the interpersonal skills required to deal with ASD diagnosed individuals effectively. It is an issue of acceptance by a society that is inclusive to a preconceived norm. Those who do not fit the paradigm are easily ignored and excluded.
Peter and Allison are two individuals stranded on an island looking for help to build that bridge back into the mainstream of society. They are immersed in a world where rules abound and behavioral patterns are endlessly scrutinized. The autistic person is faced with the increasingly difficult task of blending in with a society whose comfort level is defined by a behavioral norm. Unfortunately, that norm, all too often, leads to the misunderstanding and mistreatment of those with autism.
Opinion By Hans Benes