Monday, January 24, 2011

Autism and the law: is Autism an excuse?

I recently had this question presented to me and it's an interesting one. Advocates opinions will vary, but I will try to explain to you how it is and isn't an excuse.

First of all, when dealing with any disorder of a person who commits a crime, the most important factor is their active knowledge of right from wrong.

If that knowledge is questionable, the person can be put through psychological assessment to determine their competency to stand trial. Even that doesn't guarantee that this person will just be set free back into society, depending on the charges at hand.

That's the second most important issue (or arguably equal in some cases), the offense that has been committed.

Third gets into the details of how the offense took place. Did the persons medical condition cause a situation that was out of their control? That is and has been an applicable defense in cases before.

Example of knowledge of right and wrong: The case of Nick Dubin, the doctor and advocate arrested for downloading child pornography. In the police reports, Dr. Dubin is reported to have admitted he knew it was wrong to do what he did. That admittance (coupled with the fact that he's highly intelligent with a doctorate degree) may be held as evidence that he knew right from wrong. Therefore, autism is not a defense against the crime at hand.

An opposite example could be the case of Zakh Price in Arkansas and other kids like him. Reports indicate he was being restrained and lashed out, kicking the principal. There are many cases like this across the country. Some of these children are being charged with assault. The problem is that their condition may have caused a situation beyond the child's control. A child with a sensory disorder (like with autism), is susceptible to sensory overload. If they are pressured too much, they will be forced into a fight or flight frame of consciousness and could lash out in attempt to get away from the extra sensory issues that are triggering them. Some cases have been dismissed and therefore, autism is an applicable defense.

There are many dynamics in cases and criminal offenses that may take precedence in deciding all of these factors. I should point out that this is the same, however, in any kind of court case. That's why we have courtrooms instead of lynch mobs.

What gets most advocates in an uproar, isn't the fact that someone with autism got arrested and they should just be let off because they're autistic. It's how the arrest occurred, the details and what they were arrested for. In most cases (that advocates care about), the person arrested can be shown to be have been mishandled. There have been cases where a person was arrested for "disturbing the peace" and "resisting arrest" and they turned out to have been severely autistic, otherwise mentally challenged, or even having an all out seizure. One case showed a man arrested for those two things and later proven to have been having a seizure from an allergic reaction. These are cases of clear failures in the legal system at the police level. These are the cases that raise hackles and sensitivities everywhere. It's a scale of unfair treatment that we want to see corrected. The only way to correct it is with education.

So, no, advocates do want a free ride for criminals. And that also should not be compared to wanting autistics accepted for being able to live life like anyone else or allowed to live life with equal rights as anyone else. We should also beware of anyone who tries to create stigma against all advocates or all autistics based on one advocate opinion or one person who commits a crime claiming to have autism.

So I leave you with this, 1) get all facts.
2) If you commit a crime and demonstrate that you knew it was wrong, you will likely be prosecuted no matter what conditions you live with.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Behavior breakthroughs

When your spectrum child has a breakthrough with anywhere in their behaviors, do you praise them? You should. Let me tell you about a breakthrough in my son's behaviors. Panic in unsecured situations is fairly normal for any child. On the spectrum, it takes more to get used to odd situations than for a typical child.

When we left for a Christmas vacation in Louisiana, to spend time with my girlfriend's family, we took off early in the morning. Snow blew heavily and we dealt with treacherous roads to get out of town. We didn't make it out of town for that matter. Ten minutes into our drive we slid into a ditch between and exit road and the highway. We had to be towed out. My son felt panic, naturally and had to be constantly reassured that we would be pulled out by the towtruck we called. We were safely pulled out and on our way with no further incident. The trip was a great success and lots of fun.

A couple weeks ago, we were driving my beat up little Geo Tracker from Oshkosh to Sheboygan. The engine rattled and got quite noisy. Smoke billowed from the rear. We were in trouble and it was dark out. I knew the engine was going, but I had to push it as far as I could. We couldn't be stranded in the cold and the dark. I was sure that Denver would panic and be afraid of trips or something.

Instead, he looked up from his DS he played and said in a matter of fact tone: "Uh oh, we might need a towtruck, Dad." No panic at all.

As luck, fate or Guardian Angel might have it, we managed to get just into the parking lot of a convenience store before we rolled to a stop. We had even coasted with no engine power at all for the last eighty yards or so. My son was able to sit indoors in safety, at a table to play his DS while we waited for the towtruck and my girlfriend to rescue us. I commended my son for his fine handling of himself because he really did do a good job with the situation. Often, situations that are out of our control are our greatest challenges. He did a great job, and I'm very proud of him.

Our high functioning kids (especially them), do have the capability to learn and grow. Watching for those milestones can be uplifting and should be commended.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Autism: Why get diagnosis?

You aren't having any difficulties and it's been suggested that you may be on the spectrum. Or maybe that's the story for your child? Either way, why bother with diagnosis if you aren't having any difficulties?

Getting a diagnosis isn't always about having difficulties today. It's preparing for difficulties in the future. Few of us have the luxury of a crystal ball and feeling confident about your future and standing in life is all well and good. Unfortunately, life is just not so certain.

Even if you never make use of a diagnosis in your medical records, it gives you something to fall back on. New developments are cropping up every year in services and benefits that you may be eligible for if you need them. Getting proper diagnosis opens those doors for you. If you never need them, good for you, but you should be prepared ahead of time.

Early diagnosis is especially important for our children. Sure, they may not be having difficulties now, but as they get older and life cycles change, they may need the additional supports that are available to children on the spectrum. Studies have shown that early support is more successful than waiting until later. You can find such reports in most medical diagnosis for all kinds of conditions.

I've talked to lots of parents who have fallen into the dismissive "it's just" trap. They don't bother getting diagnosis, despite warnings, because they deny or dismiss the problem. "Oh, Joey's just acting out". That's a dangerous attitude and I've seen the results first hand. I've been approached by parents who find themselves in a desperate situation after years of dismissal. They often say something to me like, "we thought it was..." and then they got surprised when the problem didn't just go away.

Autism doesn't just go away. It's a permanent condition but not the end of the world. It is treatable and controllable in various levels. The early you get the support that's needed, the better (even if you don't have to use it right away). If you don't go and find out what support or treatment is available, get diagnosis, learn about it, you'll only have yourself to blame.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Autism, the invisible community

One of the things that make it difficult to show need for understanding is the fact that autism (and similar conditions) are self masking. They aren't as obvious as physical conditions or some other mental affected conditions. As we walk around we look just like anyone else. I believe this makes the discrimination and stigma we run into harder to fight.

I think we get more of the ignorant responses or questions than most because of this fact. People say uneducated things like; "Why should you get special treatment?" or "Why can't you just be normal?" or "What's wrong with you?". The fact is, so long as there are comments like these, they answer themselves.

"Why should you get special treatment?" : For one there's the Americans with Disabilities Act and all the anti-discrimination laws that go with it. The fact that someone feels the need to ask such a careless question proves that there isn't enough understanding, compassion or education on the matter. Maybe when more people show those qualities in understanding (I prefer understanding over "treatment"), we won't have to try so hard to accomplish that.

"Why can't you just be normal?" First, define normal. Then point out ten people in the immediate public vicinity you can guarantee fit your description. This lack of tolerance is shown in many ways. It's shown by public displays of intolerance with rude glances and comments of many kinds. "Why can't you control your child?" and other fine gems. Again, the question answers itself. The autistic community is very large while mostly still invisible. If you understood, you wouldn't ask such demeaning questions.

Next is the point that has been made to me, to just blow off ignorant people who talk to me like that. If I were only talking about the casual observer, I would agree whole heartedly. You can't educate everyone. There are plenty of people who's minds are closed and locked to all information. But I'm not just talking about a casual observer at the grocery store or mall or restaurant.

I'm talking about employers who treat their employees to this behavior. I'm talking about teachers who give this ignorant attitude to their special needs students. I'm talking about relatives, parents, and even caretakers. Almost all of them come off with, "You don't look any different" or some such similar comment. They don't believe what they can't "see" in physical aspect. I'm talking about people who really need that education and understanding. It would save people from losing jobs, students their academic standing, and families from breaking apart.

So, when someone wants to know "why", tell them to come and read this. Tell them that just because they can't see it instantly for themselves, doesn't mean it isn't real. Good luck, many of you know just what I'm talking about.