In The Politics of Autism, I discuss interactions between police and autistic people. Sometimes they occur on the road. A number of ASD people drive cars. Some states have actual or proposed programs for voluntary identification.
Parents of Autistic Children, [is] a nonprofit based in New Jersey that provides training for parents and educators on how to teach children with autism to respond to people in uniform. The group also hosts workshops for police officers and other officials on how to interact with people with special needs. To date, they’ve trained more than 70,000 police officers, firefighters and ambulance squads in New Jersey.
The tendency of many people on the autism spectrum to wander can lead to encounters with the police, but Wendy Fournier, president of the National Autism Association, said there are two distinct categories, wandering and elopement, though they are often used interchangeably.
Wandering, she said, is more purposeful and usually happens between ages 4 and 7. “That child will have it in his head that he wants to go swimming or to the park,” she said. “It’s what he wants to do regardless of the safety issues, which can be crossing a busy street without looking so he can get to his destination. It’s hard to stop him.”
In elopement, a child may bolt because of an overwhelming situation such as being around large crowds.
The association has two free downloadable programs with tools to address these issues. The Big Red Safety Box covers wandering and elopement, and the Meet the Police program teaches parents of children on the autism spectrum and children with autism how to interact with the police.
According to a 2017 study from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University, an estimated one in five teenagers with autism was stopped and questioned by the police before age 21, and 5 percent were arrested. And according to research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, people with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum, are five times more likely to be incarcerated than people in the general population, and “civilian injuries and fatalities during police interactions are disproportionately common among this population.”