The following is a blog post made by Julie Ellsmoor, mum to John, who has autism. It was originally posted on Close Encounters of the Autistic Kind. Reprinted with permission.
It’s a fair cop – 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.