“I sat in the courtroom and sobbed. I had never met this young man and I had just met his mother in person that morning. Even though we were essentially strangers, I viscerally felt the anxiety and fear of this family. Reginald “Neli” Latson has Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and was on trial for injuring a school resource officer. I too have an 18-year old son with autism.
The evidence showed that Neli, in resisting arrest, had severely injured the officer, but only after an interchange that magnified his inability to process verbal input and significantly increased his sense of uncertainty and apprehension. The officer had been alerted to look for an African American teenage male carrying a gun. Neli had been sitting waiting for the library to open. He had no gun. Although initially cooperative when the officer approached him, Neli stopped cooperating when the police officer asked him for his name. He had done nothing wrong. The “rule,” he knew, was that police officers went after people who had done something wrong. Since Neli knew he had not done anything wrong, to his concrete way of thinking, he didn’t need to obey the police officer. So he didn’t comply with the police officer’s request that he identify himself and attempted to leave the scene. It is undisputed that Neli did not possess a gun or any other weapon. Until he encountered the officer, he had committed no crime. The basis for the arrest was a county ordinance that makes it a crime to refuse to identify yourself in response to a request from a law enforcement officer.
Neli was found guilty of charges associated with an assault and the jury recommended a sentence of 10 ½ years. In Virginia, the jury recommends a sentence and the judge imposes the sentence at a later date. In Virginia, there is no parole. He will serve every day of whatever sentence he is given.” –Teresa Champion
This is why Awareness and Education are so important. Our children’s world grows every day. When they are little, it is easy to explain the world to them and them to the world. As adults, our children with Autism are often left to the ignorance of the world around them. This poor boy, like many others, has done nothing wrong and yet he’s been in jail for over a year and faces up to 10 1/2 more years in prison, simply for not giving his name to a police officer.
We cannot educate everyone, but something we can do is help our children learn the “rule” of identity. By helping our children learn to identify themselves in a difficult time, we are giving them a power. We give them strength and hopefully a bit of compassion from the authority involved. Giving our children the ability to do something with a tool that they could not do by themselves, is a great asset to their ability to function in the world around them. I did not create this ID, it was created and distributed by the Autism Snags & Tags Facebook page. I love their designs and the functionality behind this ID is just fabulous. Visit them on FB (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Autism-Snags-Tags/294557828728) to view more of their designs and get connected with other families on the Autism journey.
Use this ID on a lanyard around your child’s neck or on a safety pin to the inside of their coat or sweater. This gives them the ability to quickly alert authority figures to their disability and a way to help diffuse the situation before it escalates too far for the child/adult with autism to be able control themselves.