Public Comment

Troubling Autism News

Nathan Pitts, Autism Spectrum Liberation Front
Tuesday June 01, 2010 - 04:16:00 PM

There were three troubling news items this past two weeks relating to Autism. Two relate to police violence, and the third sadly involves Hershey's Foods Corporation. 

Thirteen year-old Kaaron Guillory was pepper-sprayed by a Sacramento police sargent on school property. He now faces felony charges of assaulting the sexrgeant and resisting arrest. Mr. Guillory is autistic, and was regularly harassed by bullies while attending Rosa Parks Middle School. He had only been attending the school for two months, yet due to the indifference of school officials, and actions of the police officer, the student's mother decided homeschooling would be the safest option for him. A bully had initiated a fight with Kaaron Guillory, and a police officer forcefully intervened. The police sergeant was not reading the cues exhibited by the teenager's autistic response to the situation. The sergeant made the teenager more confused and agitated, instead of making attempts to calm the student down. Kaaron became so upset that he smashed his hand into a window, which, when pushed to the limit, is not an uncommon way for an autistic person to express an extremely high level of frustration and confusion. A spokesperson for the police department said that pepper-spraying someone they know is a special needs student is within police guidelines. The sergeant involved claimed that student assaulted him, and that he was unable to subdue and handcuff the 13 year-old special needs student without the aid of pepper-spray. Belinda Torres, Kaaron's mother, said that her son was "disoriented at the scene, and at the hospital he kept saying, 'Mom, what happened?' He didn't understand as well." She also stated that her son has become "more withdrawn".  

From the beginning, Belinda Torres had tried to communicate her son's disability to the school; she explained that there were issues of bullying and that her son needed to be safe while attending school. For two months, nobody at the junior high did anything to help Kaaron Guillory acclimate to his new school. Then when a fight breaks out, Kaaron ends up being labeled a criminal, instead of being treated as a victim.  

Autistics who are able to pursue a public education, must be able to do so in safe and tolerant environments. Autistics must also be free of police aggression. If the sergeant had better training in how to interact with Autistics, he could have deescalated the situation instead of making it worse. There is an underlying prejudice in police culture against citizens with certain types of disabilities. Police are trained to view people with social disabilities as dangerous. There also needs to be more restrictions on weapons like pepper-spray and tasers, especially in situations such as this when an officer knows an individual is disabled.  

Over in Georgia, Clifford Grevemberg, an 18 year-old Autistic was tased twice by police officer while waiting outside a restaurant. Clifford's older brother was inside the restaurant ordering food. Two Tyree Island police officers wrongly believed the teenager was drunk, because he was sitting on the sidewalk and had a "fixed gazed" when spoken to. The officers told Clifford to stand up and demanded to see ID, while they grabbed his arms. After the Autistic failed to respond, they pushed him down, breaking a tooth. Then Clifford was tased twice. Clifford faces charges this July. Eye witness accounts say that at no time did Clifford fight with the police or try to run away. Police Chief James Price blamed the Grevemberg family in the press, saying that Clifford should not have been "left unattended".  

Dover, Delaware was the location of the NASCAR Autism Speaks 400. The race is named after Autism Speaks, an organization which considers Autistic disorders to be diseases which need to be cured, and eradicated. A division inside the organization is called Cure Now. Autism Speaks had an ad campaign which insisted that Autistic children caused chaos in families and were burdens on parents. Furthermore, Autism Speaks perpetuated the dangerous myth that common childhood vaccinations were causing Autism. Autism Speaks threatened legal action against a 14 year-old Autistic girl for making a website which parodied the organization. As well they threatened suit against another Autistic individual for selling t-shirts which read: “Autism Speaks can go away. I have Autism, I can speak for myself.”  

Sadly, Hershey's Foods Corporation was a major sponsor of the NASCAR Autism Speaks 400. As an Autistic person, I am intrigued by things going around in circles, but NASCAR is insipid, and represents the antithesis of conservation. And Hershey's didn't just associate itself with any race, it associated itself with a race co-organized by a pseudo-science organization reminiscent of X-Men villains that try to vanquish the “mutant menace”.  

Autistic adults have a lower quality of life, on average, than people who are neuro-typical. Unfortunately, the patterns of ignorance and abuse towards Autistics are being repeated on autistic youth.