As a parent of an autistic child, one of the issues within the autism community that really “sets me off”, that again no one wants to talk about, is the issue of public schools having children with Autism arrested when they suffer from a meltdown. “Meltdowns” can include, screaming, biting, scratching, throwing objects, breaking objects and worse, they may try to harm others. The safety of ALL children should be the priority in these types of situations, therefore, the first thing to do is to isolate the child, who is having the meltdown, to an area where no other children are present and where the child cannot easily exit. The second thing to do is to call the parents and have them come to the school to remove the child. Parents should have this “crisis plan” or “meltdown strategy” in their IEP to have some “guarantee” that their child will not be arrested. If a public school, will not agree to this nor will they “guarantee” they won’t call the police, then there is a “security” need/issue that the school cannot adequately address, therefore, parents should request a transfer to a school that can provide adequate “security” for your child.
I call this a “security” issue because unapproved transportation of a child from a school, to an unknown location, to me is a security issue. I need to know who is handling my child and who he is around, for his safety and others. I now have a guarantee from my son’s current school that they will NOT call the police on him and that he will not be transported anywhere that I do not approve. My child does not belong in a police station, no matter how bad his meltdown may be. He needs to be with the proper teachers and behavioral specialists that can help him de-escalate his behavior; the police would only escalate his behavior.
A friend of mine, who has a son diagnosed as PDD-NOS (atypical autism), was attending a public school and was arrested, placed in handcuffs and charged with disorderly conduct. He was 12 years old at the time. His teacher had taken the class on an “outing” to a local restaurant, inside the restaurant her son had a meltdown, he became extremely loud and irritable. The restaurant owner called the police, I assume he probably not familiar with autism and was worried about the safety of his other customers. I completely understand this; however, the teacher did nothing to help deescalate the problem. The teacher stood there and watched as the police came in and arrested him. He was put in the back of a police car and his mother was not notified until after he was at the police station and the school suspended him for three days. Really? Am I the only one that sees a problem with this?
That child was the teacher’s responsibility, she was the one who took the class on the outing. It was her responsibility to isolate the child, whether taking him outside or taking him in the restroom, again to prevent any harm to anyone else and then call the parents. If the parents could not retrieve the child; then that teacher should have contacted her school and had another teacher or staff member come to the restaurant and appropriately escort the child back to school and then wait for the parent to to come to the school. Now, this child, who is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, now has a disorderly conduct charge on his record until he is 18. Really? So if the child wants to get a job before he is 18 – will he be able to? How did the police help this matter? How did this help the child? Why didn’t the teacher step in and say “No, this child does not need assistance by the police, he is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, we are waiting for additional staff to help me transport him back to the school and wait for his parents?”
If a police officer came in and handcuffed my child, I know for a fact, that experience would fuel my child’s anger even more; he would probably have become more agitated because of the way the handcuffs would feel against his skin and having his arms forced behind his back. Many autistic kids are overly sensitive to certain objects or certain fabrics against their skin as well as being physically restricted.
So, if public schools cannot handle children with autism, why are they there? Could it be that the public schools do not want to hand over the money they get for special needs kids to another school district?
Below are just some examples of children with autism being arrested at public schools: