I recently read a really interesting article by Jo Worgan an editor of the online magazine ‘autismdailynewscast’, regarding law enforcement and young people on the autistic spectrum. It is entitled ‘I Am Frightened’ Jo’s article is excellent and definitely worth reading. Young people who have autism are vulnerable and can inadvertently find themselves in all sorts of trouble at the mercy of police men and women with little or no experience of autism. Please do have a read of Jo’s article by following the link below.
I am happy to report that personally I have always found the police on the Wirral to be excellent in terms of their understanding of autism and the way in which they handle sensitive situations. By way of an example I would like to share with you some stories concerning you know who and the ‘Peez’ as he calls them.
The first time John and I made the aquaintence of our local ‘Peez force’ was when John made a decision that he didn’t like seat belts and refused to keep his fastened. He was about 12 at the time. We would start out on our journey all safely seatbelted up and after a few minutes he would unfasten it and bounce up and down giggling helplessly. He liked the clunk click sound that the belt made when it clicked in place but he didn’t like to feel the belt restricting his movement. This is not uncommon among some autistic children but it made driving anywhere very difficult and the journey to the shops five minutes away, could take an hour.
I would stop the car, tell John he had to wear his seat belt, click it back in, get deafened by his squeals of laughter at the noise and then restart the car. 100 yards later he would take it off again and we would repeat the whole thing over and over until eventually I would have a sense of humour failure and John’s frustration would boil over.
“Seat belt ON John, please. Mummy can’t drive if you don’t wear it.” I would fight to get it back over his big tummy while John wriggled and hooted, he loved the ‘Seatbelt Off’ game.
“Oh” John would reply unfastening it. “ON not OFF” I would reply sternly, trying to convey the serious nature of my demand. “OH” he would yell back clapping his hands with glee. Just for the record in ‘John speak’ ‘Oh’ means both on and off, John pronounces both words the same which at times is very confusing but when playing the dreaded seatbelt game I knew for sure that ‘Oh’ very definitely meant off.
We would kangaroo every 100 yards with me shouting ‘On’, John shouting ‘Oh’ and the poor car spluttering and stalling. It was much more stressful and a lot less fun than it might sound, at least that’s how it was for me. John on the other hand just thought I was being a party pooper and ruining an excellent game by being miserable. All my anxiety and my raised voice was just stimulting John even more but in a negative way. He would eventually end up angry and frustrated because I wasn’t playing the game properly or fully appreciating how hilarious Clunk Click actually sounds. It always ended up with John being unable to cope and his behaviour would then deteriorate. I am ashamed to say that my own behaviour wasn’t much better. It was a real struggle for both of us in general at this time in John’s life as we tried to make sense of his world.
During one particular frought car Journey, ending with John screaming and banging the window with his fists and me crying and banging my head on the steering wheel in frustration, I decided that I couldn’t do this anymore. “Ok ok, you don’t have to wear your seat belt, I give up John. OK I GIVE UP” I put my head in my hands. John stopped banging and screaming, I don’t think he knew why I was upset but from my perspective at least it had calmed the situation. To John I was just a bad looser in his favourite game. “Oh?” Enquired John tentatively……”Yes off” I replied inbetween sobs. “Unclick the belt John, but please just sit still” I was clearly more upset than the situation warranted but the continuing every day stress of trying to do normal things yet failing miserably was tough on both of us. I was beaten by the seatbelt game and I didn’t care. It had been months of trying to make him wear his belt and I was worn out. So what if I got stopped by the police, if they locked me up it would at least be a break from this craziness.
Over the following weeks our car journeys were much more pleasant, we continued to play the seatbelt game with the only difference being that when John unclipped it we both shouted ‘Hurray’. Well I did, John shouted ‘Ay’ and gently slapped my head.
It was during one of these games that I noticed I was being followed by a police car. In fairness to him it must have looked as if John was beating me up as he bounced around and slapped my head. Before long I was pulled over. I wound my window down. “Peez ok” shouted John leaning over me to get a closer look at the policeman. “Lie nana peez’ he continued while I tried to push him back into his seat. “Lie lie lie nana’ squawked John as I managed to poke him in the ribs to move him over. “Shhhh please John, let mummy talk to the man.” Catching my reflection in the mirror I realised I must look very odd, my hair was all over the place from the head slapping and I was red in the face from being crushed by John in his attempt to get a good look at the ‘Peez’ man. I smoothed it down as best as I could and smiled in a way that I hoped indicated that I was in control. Yeah right!
The policeman looked at me closely and eventually asked if I was ok. I assured him I was and that we had been playing the seatbelt game. John immediately obliged by fastening and unfastening his belt and we both shouted Hurray. John then slapped me on the head and squealed laughing. I looked at the policeman and gave him my special smile again. I explained that John was autistic and as such found it difficult to wear his seatbelt. “Lie lie nana” shouted John unhelpfully. To the policeman It probably sounded as if John was telling him what a dreadful fibber his nana was, so I thought I should explain
“He wants you to put the lights and sirens on” I said nodding in the direction of the car. Suddenly the police man started to laugh “Oh I get it, he was saying nee naaa and asking me to flash the lights” Then suddenly and without warning he cupped his hands together and ‘Nee naad’ so loudly and realistically that John and I both jumped out of our skins but rewarded him a well deserved round of applause. He got a bit carried away with his virtuoso performance and continued to ‘Nee Naa’ inspite of receiving strange looks from passers by. John thought was hilarious.
The policeman then went round to Johns side of the car so he could have a chat with him instead of leaning in through my window. John obliged by opening the window, “Hah peas mummy yes ok” he asked as he tried to pull the policeman’s cap off his head. I think he has taken a fancy to your hat I explained as John pointed to his head and then at the cap. “Here you are John” obliged the policeman as he plonked his hat on Johns head and pulled it down over his eyes. Johns squealed, bounced and giggled with delight. “Be good for your mum now John, ok” he said retrieving his hat before turning to me. “Now then about the seatbelt, he should be wearing it at all times but in situations like yours we are flexible. Looks like you have enough to contend with love. I will say one thing though, it’s not good getting your head slapped while your driving, maybe come up with an alternative eh?” I just nodded, what could I say he was absolutely right. “I will, I promise, thank you for being so understanding.” Right on cue, John slapped my head and shouted ‘Lie Lie nana’. I gave the policeman an extra special smile as I drove off.
The next time he had a brush with the law was a couple of years later when he was out with his one of his carers from an agency. They were all wonderful and we couldn’t have managed without them. They would take John out to have a trip on the ferry or over to Liverpool for a couple of hours three times a week, this gave his dad and I a much needed break and some time for eachother. However John could be temperamental in his younger days and if things didn’t go his way he would lash out. Anyway apparently he spotted a bus that he often went on but this time the bus was going straight back to the depot. The the carer tried to explain to John that he couldn’t go on the bus. To John this didn’t make sense, the bus was there with ‘The man’ sat behind the wheel as normal, so why couldn’t he get on? He was allowed on every other time so why not now? All perfectly logical to John, all very difficult to explain for the carer. John became more and more wound up and as they crossed the road John suddenly lashed out and hit her. Fortunately there was a police car parked across the road and what they saw was a big lad hitting a girl so they ran accross the road to break up what they assumed was a domestic incident.
The first we knew about it was when a police car pulled up in the drive with all the lights going but no sirens. John was in the back being entertained by one of the policemen and having a fantastic time. They explained what had happened, assuring us that as soon as they got to John and the carer they realised he had special needs. They had been fantastic, made sure she was ok before allowing her to drive herself home and then they drove John home the long way round via New Brighton, because they could tell how much he was loving being in the police car and they wanted him to have a bit of fun to make up for his disappointment over the bus. They had demonstrated an amazing insight into Johns needs and I can never thank them enough. They even agreed to the flashing lights once or twice.
We were so grateful for their kindness and for the way they dealt with the situation, it could have been so much worse. John was calm, happy and clearly felt safe in their company. The two officers made sure we were ok too as it had been a bit of a shock. Of the many things John’s dad and I worried about what we might face as John got older, our boy being brought home in a police car wasn’t one of them!
Once the officers established that we were all ok they both gave John a big hug and jumped back into the car. We waved them off from the end of the drive with John jumping up and down and letting everyone know in a very loud voice, that his Nana was a liar. As the car sped away the blue lights flashed for one last time and the neighbours curtains twitched violently as they wondered what on earth had been going on in ‘The mad house’ this time.