I just read this today on from Autism Speaks blog. It is a story of a young, 19-year-old man on the spectrum who appears to have been misinterpreted by a law enforcement officer. The officer was in the are investigating a report to lookout for a young African-American male carrying a weapon. Since the autistic think and see the world oftentimes through their own set of right and wrong and peculiar way of reading situations, a physical altercation ensued between the young man with Asperger’s and the officer. The young man was found guilty at trial and now faces up to 10.5 years in prison.
It is stories like this that tear at my heart for great need of awareness in our society on how this growing population of our society view and operate in the world. It is my prayer that the education, interventions, love, support and values by example we provide our autistic boys makes a difference if they ever encounter a similar situation. People with autism have it tough. And with rising statistics of prevalence in the world, challenges like this to our society are only going to increase. It is my hope that society and science work hard to educate the “normal” people of the world about their autistic counterparts, and that science finally finds a cause to the disorder. In the meantime, we can only do the best we can to help those who cannot help themselves, and those in the world that need and education when they have that ever-increasing encounter with a young-adult who just doesn’t appear to be “all that there.”
I have included the first part of the article for your reading, but you can click here and at the bottom to link to the source.
The Latson Case in Virginia: A Danger Signal That We Can’t Ignore
May 27, 2011
Teresa Champion is an attorney admitted to the bar in Kentucky and Washington State. She has two children; Sydney and James, who has a diagnosis of autism. She is a long time civic and community activist, who works with the Fairfax Autism Network (FAN) and the Virginia Ability Alliance (VAA). Champion is a member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA). Currently, Teresa is volunteering for the Virginia Autism Project (VAP) as the Northern Virginia Regional Director.
The Cry for Help:
I sat in the courtroom and sobbed. I had never met this young man and I had just met his mother in person that morning. Even though we were essentially strangers, I viscerally felt the anxiety and fear of this family. Reginald “Neli” Latson has Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and was on trial for injuring a school resource officer. I too have an 18-year old son with autism.
The evidence showed that Neli, in resisting arrest, had severely injured the officer, but only after an interchange that magnified his inability to process verbal input and significantly increased his sense of uncertainty and apprehension. The officer had been alerted to look for an African American teenage male carrying a gun. Neli had been sitting waiting for the library to open. He had no gun. Although initially cooperative when the officer approached him, Neli stopped cooperating when the police officer asked him for his name. He had done nothing wrong. The “rule,” he knew, was that police officers went after people who had done something wrong. Since Neli knew he had not done anything wrong, to his concrete way of thinking, he didn’t need to obey the police officer. So he didn’t comply with the police officer’s request that he identify himself and attempted to leave the scene. It is undisputed that Neli did not possess a gun or any other weapon. Until he encountered the officer, he had committed no crime. The basis for the arrest was a county ordinance that makes it a crime to refuse to identify yourself in response to a request from a law enforcement officer.