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I’m African American. I also have Autism Spectrum Disorder. These two dualities are not separate; they make up one person, me. Being on the spectrum has its challenges, add in an element of dealing with racism, and it’s quite the burden at times. This month, I’m writing about the horrible incident that occurred to an African American male named George Floyd and how it impacted me, the more substantial connection for People of Color and others on the spectrum, and the ways I’ve taken part in conversations and events on the broader aspect of how local Police deal with individuals with mental health issues.
It’s important to understand that autistic traits are not seen as socially acceptable at times. Stimming, trouble holding eye contact or talking about special interests are peculiarities that can be seen as odd by neurotypicals. If you are not a part of the crowd, then it’s easier to single you out. As a Black person living in America, I’m well aware of my skin color. ASD is a condition not defined by physical characteristics, meaning someone looking at me would not be able to tell if I have autism or not. If you combine elements of the race with autism, then an assumption of suspicion or being under the influence of an illicit substance can be made just from displaying common autistic traits like stimming. When I go out in public, I make every effort to mask any behaviors that could be seen as odd, so I don’t call undue attention to myself. At times I’m wary of an encounter with Police because my autistic traits can make me appear like a suspect. Sure, there have been suggestions to carry a card that displays the fact that I have ASD, but as a Black person, you never reach into your pocket when encountering the police unless you are specifically told to do that. Another factor is becoming non-verbal when stressed, which can be misconstrued as non-compliance. Lastly, Americans shouldn’t be compelled to carry a card with information about their mental health status when better training protocols could be implemented.
When I saw news reporting of George Floyd’s murder, it broke my heart. Floyd was detained, and for 8 minutes and 34 seconds, America watched in horror as Police committed the crime. It also reminded me of the story of an Autistic man who was out in his community with a toy truck, and someone called the Police and said he had a weapon. The man’s caregiver came out to explain the situation to an officer, he was ordered to lie down, and when his hands were outstretched, Police shot him anyway. Thankfully he survived, but if an individual with ASD encountered that officer alone, the situation could have been horrific.
How can we change things? As a member of a peer advisory board, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with local police officers and ask questions about protocols relating to engaging with individuals on the spectrum and those who have other mental health conditions. This same peer advisory board provides educational resources and training to our local Police. The National Alliance on Mental Illness partners with local police to provide comprehensive training via a Crisis Intervention Team (CIT) Programs. Is there still more work to be done on that subject matter? Yes, but progress is being made, and I’m happy about that.
My intention with this blog is not to cause a wider rift between the Police and the public. I want education and accountability for misconduct. I don’t wish to see African Americans or those who are aspies to be seen as suspicious just for displaying autistic traits. As a society, we must continue to progress for a better tomorrow.
Thank you for taking the time to read this; I appreciate it and am open to any questions or comments.
To learn more about Crisis Intervention that was talked about in this blog, check out this site: https://www.nami.org/Advocacy/Crisis-Intervention/Crisis-Intervention-Team-(CIT)-Programs