What Would Your Child with Autism Do in a Police Encounter? A Success Story

What Would Your Child with Autism Do in a Police Encounter? A Success Story
by Amanda Wright

BE SAFE The Movie is celebrating our 6th exciting year of actively promoting safe interactions between police and individuals with autism and other exceptional needs. We love traveling the country to help parents, educators and police officers proactively address the safety needs of youth through BE SAFE materials and training!

It’s truly rewarding to see the impact of BE SAFE.  Today we’re sharing a guest blog by Amanda Wright of Chandler, Arizona. As you’ll see, Amanda is a Certified BE SAFE trainer, and her own son recently had a heart-stopping encounter with the police. Read on to hear what happened from Amanda and her husband, Joe Steele.

Being a mom is scary on its best day. We send our children out into the world hoping they remain safe and make smart choices. You do what you can to prepare them. Having an adult son with autism who is low verbal and has an intellectual disability magnifies my fears about what might happen when he’s out and about.

My son’s name is Jordan. Jordan is 18, almost 19. He’s highly independent and capable. He is low verbal, yet has made his way into this world with determination and a respect for responsibility.

My kind-hearted son has lived a tremendously filled life thus far. He keeps busy, always planning his next activity, event or big adventure. Jordan has earned the right to a little freedom, albeit still highly monitored.  He has a pure yet naïve spirit… one that doesn’t truly grasp the concept of violence or malice, so we continue to be watchful.

Jordan has had several interactions with police officers over the years.  We encouraged him to say hello and provide his personal information, building that habit. He’s familiar with the idea that people in uniform are “safe persons.”

To step up his preparation for the “real world,” Jordan has viewed Be SAFE The Movie several times. You may know that BE SAFE was created by educator Emily Iland, who is also the mother of a son with autism. BE SAFE models what to do and say when you meet the police in different everyday situations, ranging from unwittingly committing a crime to being mistaken for an armed robber.

Sometimes life imitates art, and what you see in a movie actually happens to you! In January I received a phone call from my husband, Joe Steele, that made my heart drop to the floor. My husband told me that Jordan had an interaction with the police; that without Joe’s support, could have gone drastically different.

A robbery had just happened and the police were actively looking for the perpetrator. Jordan matched the description of a suspect, who was seen near the same park Jordan was at. That’s exactly the scenario that happens in BE SAFE The Movie, but this was really happening to my son!

Jordan is on the Special Olympics cheer team; my husband is the Special Olympics Coordinator for the City of Tempe.  When Jordan’s practice at Clark Park Recreation Center was over, he went outside to move around and give himself some sensory input after having been inside for so long. Jordan doesn’t leave the vicinity (he’s a mover not a wanderer).

Joe was inside the building where another team was practicing when he saw the police through the window.  Here’s Joe’s personal account of Jordan’s interaction with the police:

On January 15th, 2019, we were at Clark Park recreation center. My adult autistic son was approached by Tempe police officers.  Jordan matched the description of a suspect that the police were searching for. Jordan was wearing his red shirt (it was Monday and that is the color for Monday) and jeans, just like a man involved in an armed robbery.

The first police officer on scene approached Jordan from across Roosevelt Street.  He shined his flash light toward my son and asked for his attention. I quickly approached Jordan within full view of the officer. I told my son to stop and remove his ear buds because a police officer wanted his attention.  I then informed the officer that Jordan has autism and might not respond appropriately to his commands, either due to not understanding, or simply not registering that the officer was talking to him.

The officer smiled and let us know that he was searching for an individual matching my son’s description. I told him that my son had been at cheer practice with several witnesses.
At this point Jordan realized an officer was talking with/about him and he wanted to give the officer a fist bump. My son stuck his balled-up fist at the officer and said “knuckles.” This caught the officer a bit off-guard, as he took a half a step/turn before I interjected that my son wanted to give the officer “knuckles” as he has done with officers he has met before. The officer gave him a fist bump and returned to his search.

About 15 minutes later, another group of three Tempe police officers approached us at Clark Park. They were carrying heavy weapons and had a K9 with them. Fortunately, Jordan stayed calm when the dog came near. He had learned not to fear police animals and not to touch them from watching BE SAFE the Movie. At this point the officers knew that Jordan was not the person they were looking for, and kept going.

My fears became reality that day. Things actually went pretty well, especially considering all the ways things might have gone terribly wrong. On the plus side, having seen BE SAFE several times, Jordon did not panic when the police came near him. He knew to stay where he was, and didn’t run when the officers approached. He tried to follow their instructions, although he had some processing delays.

I’m so beyond grateful that Joe was able to see the interaction and step in. I’m even more grateful that the officer took the time to listen and understand Jordan’s limitations and needs.

What I know is Jordan is safe for now, yet needing even more opportunities and experiences to safely interact with the police. I recently completed a BE SAFE Certificate Course with Emily Iland to become a certified BE SAFE trainer. BE SAFE gives parents (and teachers) the tools we need to show young people what to do when they meet the police. It’s not enough to just tell them what to do. They need to see video models and practice. They need materials to drive home important safety concepts. That’s what BE SAFE is all about.

One great option in the BE SAFE program is bringing individuals like Jordan together with local police. They watch the video and practice safety activities together. This is called a BE SAFE Interactive Movie Screening. It’s amazing to watch relationships begin. Jordan has not yet participated in one, but believe me, he’s going to. I’m hosting an Interactive Movie Screening for Tempe Union High School District Students on March 23, 2019 and Jordan is registered to attend!

This mama is on a mission to help spread the education and experiences the BE SAFE program and Interactive Screenings provide.  I’ll be working to educate individuals with disabilities by hosting BE SAFE trainings throughout our community. I’ve already started connecting with our local law enforcement departments, encouraging them to attend the Interactive Screening I’m hosting so that they can meet, know and mentor people like Jordan in the community they serve.

It’s scary to think of the things that could happen to our children (of any age) when they are out in the community, especially when they aren’t prepared. What happened to Jordan could happen to anyone, including your child. The BE SAFE motto is “Don’t leave safety to chance.” I hope my experience will inspire you to actively do something to prepare your son or daughter for a police encounter, because doing nothing is just too risky!

BE SAFE is making a difference, and you can, too! Take action with these great safety products: BE SAFE The Movie, BE SAFE Teaching Edition, Self-Disclosure Cards) Bring our cutting-edge safety trainings to your community, whether it’s a BE SAFE Certificate Course like Amanda took, a BE SAFE Interactive Movie Screening or Experience Autism®. Check out an awesome video that tells the whole story! Please contact emily@BeSafeTheMovie.com to learn more

Please Note: The BE SAFE Interactive Movie Screening that Amanda is hosting on March 23 is just for Tempe Union High School District students. Space is limited and RSVP is required by March 15th. For more information contact rdenne@tempeunion.org

EMILY ILAND, M.A.

EMILY ILAND, M.A.

Emily Iland is an award-winning author, researcher, film-maker, advocate and leader in the autism field. She is the mother of a young man with ASD and brings personal experience and insight to her professional roles.

She enjoys teaching as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Special Education at California State University, Northridge. Emily is also an engaging professional speaker and trainer, presenting a variety of topics in English and Spanish across the US and abroad.

 THOMAS ILAND, CPA, DTM

THOMAS ILAND, CPA, DTM

Tom Iland was diagnosed with autism at 13, and has worked hard to achieve many of his goals: full-time employment, driving, living in his own apartment and having a girlfriend.

He has presented numerous workshops and trainings for: The Autism Society of Los Angeles, The Council of Exceptional Children, Future Horizons, The HELP Group, Autism Conferences of America, and Loyola-Marymount University just to name a few. He is also on the Board of Directors for a number of not-for-profit organizations including Autism Speaks, The Art of Autism, and Junior Chamber International. His public speaking skills have made him one of only about 4,000 Distinguished Toastmasters and he is on his way to becoming one of 76 Accredited Speakers in the world!

Experience Autism® and BE SAFE The Movie “Bridge the Gap” Between Law Enforcement and the Autism Community

Experience Autism® and BE SAFE The Movie “Bridge the Gap” Between Law Enforcement and the Autism Community

Thanks to Fantastic Friends of the San Fernando Valley for inviting us to facilitate
two terrific safety events on March 24, 2018 in Chatsworth, CA!

First, eleven LAPD officers engaged in Experience Autism®.
Our evidence-based training helps officers to recognize
and respond to people with autism and similar conditions.

Officers participated in several simulations that gave them
insight into the features of autism. They learned how to interact
with individuals on the spectrum and accommodate their needs.

Next, nearly two dozen youth with exceptional needs arrived,
with their families and mentors. Youth were paired up with the
trained officers to learn to BE SAFE together!

The audience watched scenes from BE SAFE The Movie,
followed by fun activities that were actually
a chance to practice life-saving skills.

Everyone had a great time while learning critical safety skills
like asking for help, following instructions from the police,
showing empty hands to the police, and
never touching an officer’s safety equipment.

The many benefits of the day were clear to see

  • Officers, youth and their families got more comfortable with one another and formed personal relationships.
  • Youth became familiar with police procedures, instructions and tools.
  • Officers had the chance to know, interact and communicate with diverse members of the community they serve.

All of these things together can help keep youth, adults and officers
safe in any kind of police encounter, even an emergency situation
like a school evacuation or mass shooting.

Thanks to everyone who made this bridge-building event possible including
officers from the Los Angeles Police Department’s Community Relationship

Division, Foothill Division and Youth Programs Unit.

We appreciate Lisa Carreon of Fantastic Friends for organizing the event,

Ric Mandell of Farmers Insurance and other funders,
Regency Lighting of Chatsworth for providing the space and

everyone who donated the delicious food!

If you want to bring Experience Autism® and BE SAFE to your community to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the special needs community where you live, contact Emily Iland emily@BeSafeTheMovie.com or call 661-347-8557 .

Learn more at www.ExperienceAutism.com, www.BeSafeTheMovie.com, www.emilyiland.com and www.thomasiland.com

EMILY ILAND, M.A.

EMILY ILAND, M.A.

Emily Iland is an award-winning author, researcher, film-maker, advocate and leader in the autism field. She is the mother of a young man with ASD and brings personal experience and insight to her professional roles.

She enjoys teaching as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Special Education at California State University, Northridge. Emily is also an engaging professional speaker and trainer, presenting a variety of topics in English and Spanish across the US and abroad.

 THOMAS ILAND, CPA, DTM

THOMAS ILAND, CPA, DTM

Tom Iland was diagnosed with autism at 13, and has worked hard to achieve many of his goals: full-time employment, driving, living in his own apartment and having a girlfriend.

He has presented numerous workshops and trainings for: The Autism Society of Los Angeles, The Council of Exceptional Children, Future Horizons, The HELP Group, Autism Conferences of America, and Loyola-Marymount University just to name a few. He is also on the Board of Directors for a number of not-for-profit organizations including Autism Speaks, The Art of Autism, and Junior Chamber International. His public speaking skills have made him one of only about 4,000 Distinguished Toastmasters in the world!

Does Your Special Needs Child Love Himself or Herself? A Valentine Message from Emily Iland, M.A.

Does Your Special Needs Child Love Himself or Herself? A Valentine Message from Emily Iland, M.A.

En español

Your first reaction to the question might be, “Of course, I’m sure s(he) does!” Yet in reality, our children with a disability might have doubts and mixed feelings about themselves. In this blog we’ll explain what self-love is and what it isn’t. We’ll uncover why our children with disabilities of any age might not love themselves, and discuss what we can do to help.

I say “our children,” and, “what we can do” because I have a son with autism, now in his early 30s. Tom has worked long and hard to live the life he wants for himself. I’ve been there for the peaks and valleys of his journey. The lack of self-love was a hidden obstacle along the way, but finally achieving self-love was a wonderful gift.

I’m writing this blog to share insights with parents of a child of any age, including those with teen and adult children, because this topic is relevant at all stages of life. (To keep it simple I’ll use the word child to mean your child of any age).

What is self-love?

The idea of self-love may make some people feel uncomfortable. That may come from misunderstanding the meaning of the word. Self-love isn’t being egotistical or self-centered. It isn’t narcissism or selfishness, just caring about yourself. Self-love isn’t arrogance or superiority, thinking you are better than other people. It isn’t being conceited, or excessively proud of yourself.

So then what is self-love? My son Tom discovered and taught me that loving yourself means that you know you are valuable and have something to contribute to the world. Self-love means respecting yourself and taking care of yourself, physically and emotionally. It means accepting yourself as an imperfect person with both strengths and areas to improve. Self-love means forgiving yourself for not being perfect. Self-love means acknowledging that you are a unique person who is deserving of your own love and the love of others.

Obstacles to Self-Love

Why would our children with disabilities not love themselves?  One root cause may be all the “helping” that goes on when a child has special needs. Hearing parents talking and worrying can signal the child that there is something wrong with him or her. A child might think that all the doctor appointments, therapies, meetings, and discussion means that s(he) is broken and needs to be fixed. These views of what is happening around him/her can plant seeds of doubt and be the first obstacles to self-love.

A second deterrent to self-love is struggle. When a child with a disability has a hard time doing something they need or want to do (homework, make friends, ask for help, etc.) they often blame themselves. They may feel frustrated, humiliated or ashamed. This can turn into negative self-talk with messages like “I’m stupid,” “I can’t do anything right” or “It’s all my fault.” When their self-esteem plummets, the child may be unable to share their feelings due to their disability. They may be unwilling to share their feelings with parents, especially in the teen and adult years. The negative feelings may be kept inside, silently damaging the child’s self-love.

Third, think about how children with disabilities are treated by other kids. While there are some kind and compassionate kids out there, many children think that “different” is not OK, and target kids with disabilities. Children with disabilities may be laughed at, singled out, humiliated, excluded and bullied at some point in their lives. What message does this send the child about their value and their worth? Parents may know this is going on (like when the birthday party invitations stop coming) or have no clue about the child’s painful experiences.

How to help

Now that we know some possible reasons that our children with disabilities might not love themselves, what can we do to help them learn to do so? One of the most important options is called demystification. Demystification means taking the mystery out of disability, helping the child understand and accept it.

Many parents keep a disability or diagnosis a secret, thinking that in some way “not knowing” protects the child. In fact, knowing yourself comes before loving yourself! It’s not enough to tell our children, “You have autism,” or “You have dyslexia,” or whatever the diagnosis may be. We need to explain what the diagnosis means, and how the disability affects the child. We need to be honest about strengths and needs (areas to work on). Self-understanding leads to self-acceptance, and finally, self-love.

The Demystification Process

Demystification is like an ongoing conversation that can take place over many years.

  • The first and recurring message is, “I love you and I always will. You deserve to be loved.”
  • This is followed by conversations and everyday “live” examples about the fact that everyone has strengths and “weaknesses,” which is nothing to be ashamed of.  Point out your own flaws and be OK with needing help sometimes!
  • Next comes discussing patterns of difference that often go along with a particular disability. For example in autism, a strength may be great attention to detail, and a related challenge may be “missing the big picture.” When parents are open, factual and accepting about a child’s pattern of differences, the child can learn to be open and accepting about it, too.
  • This preparation can lead up to telling the child the name of their disability if they don’t already know. Continue the discussion about the features of the disability the child has, and how they affect him or her.
  • Let the child know that s(he) is not the only one, that many other people have the same diagnosis. Let him or her know that they are not alone, and you and many others are there to help them reach their goals. Be sure the child knows about success stories of other people with disabilities. Support and work towards their own hopes and dreams for the future.
  • Here is one of our biggest secrets: Let the child know that he or she is not broken and you are not trying to change or fix them. The help everyone is offering is about building skills so that the person can have the life they want for themselves.

Demystification For All

Demystification can be a powerful process to help someone with a disability understand, accept and ultimately love themselves. Logically, the person with the disability is not the only one who can benefit from demystification. The circle of love is widened when demystification takes place within the family, in schools, and in the community.  Seek out and support anti-bullying programs, diversity acceptance campaigns and inclusion initiatives. You and your child can help reverse the decades-long trend where people with disabilities are excluded for being “different” or considered “less” than others. Clarifying facts and erasing doubts can create opportunities to grow self-love within the child, within the family, with other children, and with society in general!

This article is based on the best-selling book, Come to Life! Your Guide to Self-Discovery: Helping Youth with Autism and Learning Differences Shape Their Futures by Thomas W. Iland and Emily D. Iland (Porterville Press, 2017). The book explores Tom’s mantra: Know Yourself. Love Yourself. Be Yourself.

Great News! Come to Life! has been named among the best in family-friendly media, products and services by the Mom’s Choice Awards® Come to Life! just received the prestigious Gold Mom’s Choice Award® Learn more or get your copy at  www.Thomasiland.com

 

EMILY ILAND, M.A.

EMILY ILAND, M.A.

Emily Iland is an award-winning author, researcher, film-maker, advocate and leader in the autism field. She is the mother of a young man with ASD and brings personal experience and insight to her professional roles.

She enjoys teaching as an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Special Education at California State University, Northridge. Emily is also an engaging professional speaker and trainer, presenting a variety of topics in English and Spanish across the US and abroad.

 THOMAS ILAND, CPA, DTM

THOMAS ILAND, CPA, DTM

Tom Iland was diagnosed with autism at 13, and has worked hard to achieve many of his goals: full-time employment, driving, living in his own apartment and having a girlfriend.

He has presented numerous workshops and trainings for: The Autism Society of Los Angeles, The Council of Exceptional Children, Future Horizons, The HELP Group, Autism Conferences of America, and Loyola-Marymount University just to name a few. He is also on the Board of Directors for a number of not-for-profit organizations including Autism Speaks, The Art of Autism, and Junior Chamber International. His public speaking skills have made him one of only about 4,000 Distinguished Toastmasters and he is on his way to becoming one of 76 Accredited Speakers in the world!

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