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Thursday, September 24, 2020

Autism, Police, and the Dilemma of Difference

In The Politics of Autism, I write:

[M]any police departments have trained officers and other first responders how to spot signs of autism and respond accordingly. Some organizations have also published identification cards that ASD adults can carry in order to defuse potential conflicts. Virginia provides for an autism designation on driver licenses and other state-issued identification cards. Once again, however, the dilemma of difference comes into play. One autistic Virginian worries: “Great, so if I get into an accident, who’s the cop going to believe, the guy with the autistic label or the guy without it?” Clinical psychologist Michael Oberschneider is concerned about the understanding level of first responders: “I think many people still think of Rain Man or, more recently, the Sandy Hook Shooter, when they think of autism even though very few people on the autistic spectrum are savants or are homicidal and dangerous.”

Sam Farmer at The Hill:

As somebody living with autism who had to fight to build self-esteem and find true happiness in an essentially non-autistic world, I consider the use of the word "disability" in public discourse about autism to be a mixed bag. On a societal level, labeling autism a disability is clearly essential when it comes to justice for all of the Linden Camerons and Neli Latsons of the world who pay an unjust price as a result of improper treatment under the law. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act necessitate referring to autism as a disability if autistic individuals who require government assistance or special accommodations in school are to receive the services they deserve. Furthermore, it is very understandable for people with more moderate or severe autism spectrum profiles and those who work with and care about them to view autism as a disability. But what do you do if you are autistic and actively working on learning how to accept and love who you are, yet you are having to do so while being looked upon by society as being disabled? In this respect, the necessity for society to label autism a disability is deeply regrettable to me in that it will inevitably interfere in the process of building self-esteem for at least some people living on the spectrum.