Prisoners with special needs continue to provide challenges for police, correctional, and health care security personnel.
For example, a subject is arrested on the street exhibiting bizarre behavior and then the prisoner is brought into your jail for booking or emergency room for medical clearance. The transporting police officers have him in special restraints due to his bizarre and violent behavior. The patient is rocking back and forth in the chair. His wrists are raw and bleeding as he strains against the cuffs. Suddenly he stops rocking and glances blankly around the room, but doesn’t make eye contact with anyone. You step forward and ask him his name. He doesn’t answer. You lean towards his ear and ask a little louder, “What kind of drugs did you take today?”
Immediately, he violently jerks his head away, as if in pain, and starts pulling on his cuffs so hard that it appears that he could seriously injure his wrists. He resumes vigorously rocking back and forth. At this point, you might be making a reasonable assumption – he’s on PCP or some other powerful street drug. But your assumption may just as easily be wrong.
The arresting officers explain that he was found on a park bench, naked from the waist down. He wouldn’t answer them or even visually acknowledge their presence. When they shined a flashlight towards his face he shrieked, covered his eyes, and began rocking on the bench. When they attempted to apply a blanket escort hold he backhanded one of them. Then they attempted wrist compression, but it didn’t seem to have any affect, and he just tried to bite them.
Still, he didn’t exhibit abnormal strength and they were able to control him. He did struggle against the handcuffs and began kicking so that the officers eventually had to restrain his legs with a hobble restraint to prevent him from injuring the officers or himself. Under special education hong kong the circumstances, they did an adequate job of controlling the subject. Similar encounters, under same sort of circumstances, have not gone so well.
If I had been there, my first thought would have been that this individual had autism or a similar related disability. I would have considered this possibility because I have raised a son with autism spectrum disorder, studied autism, and controlled many subjects with autism who were in crisis. We have now reached a point, in the public safety professions, when autism spectrum disorders have to become one of our “first thoughts”, whenever we observe certain aberrant behaviors.
Nationally recognized police and corrections crisis intervention trainer, Gary Klugiewicz, sums the problem up this way, “We need to be aware of what to look for and when to ‘shift gear’ when dealing with individuals who exhibit these signs and symptoms. We also need to remember that although our usual picture of autism is of an adolescent who is acting out in an unusual manner, which adolescents with autism grow up and become adults with autism. Police, corrections, and healthcare security officers need to learn autisms “signs and symptoms” so that they can recognize and manage these persons safely, effectively, and humanely. “
What could the officers have observed about the above situation that may have given them clues about his behavior? The subject had a lack of verbalization, eye contact, and a seeming lack of a response to pain. In addition, he was rocking and appeared to have aversion to light, sound, and touch. Finally he resisted but didn’t have the typical super strength of a chemical abuser or other EDP. In fact, he appeared physically weak.
What if the arresting officers had known that half of all people with autism are nonverbal? That they rarely make eye contact? That they often appear to be oblivious to pain? That they may instinctively strike out if touched, or if their personal safety zone is invaded? That they may commonly bite as a means of defense? That they often self-stimulate (rock, twirl, flap their hands, or even hum) to manage stress or focus their attention?
What if the arresting officers had known that some persons on the autism spectrum don’t have a sense of modesty or nudity, which would help to explain their subject’s partial state of undress? What if they had been trained that persons with autism will often be hypotonic (low muscle tone), possibly making them easier to handle, but also more vulnerable to injury and positional asphyxia? What if they also knew that a light touch may seem painful but a firm hold might have a calming effect?
In this situation, what could they have done differently to control this subject than if he was on PCP? There are many differences, but it’s a fair question and the overall answer is likely “nothing” unless they had special training. The truth of the matter is that we often times don’t handle these situations well because we don’t have the proper communication skills, physical skills, or equipment to handle them safely.
The big differences are that their needs and culpability are different; and, the way in which we assess their threat level is different. The subject with autism doesn’t normally take illegal drugs, like a typical chemical abuser. He also is probably less of a physical threat than a drug user or even an EDP. He may also be easier to manage if responders are properly trained and equipped.