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"The Dark Side of Autism" Violence, Assault, Police Interaction

From The Washington Post, a frank look at the reality of autism for thousands of families.  As the teens with autism age out this problem is going to grow. Cute little boys who punch are a far cry from adult men (and women) who can injure and even kill. Ask Trudy Steuernagel. We need better treatments so that our boys and girls, men and women on the spectrum receive proper care. We need to train law enforcement. And we need a national alarm to sound that the autism epidemic is very real.  The coming years will bring grave challenges. Violent does not mean criminal - but is our system able to tell the difference? And how do we teach and  protect our kids from the backlash?

In Va. assault case, anxious parents recognize 'dark side of autism'

The issue resonates not only with parents but with police. Every year, the International Association of Chiefs of Police picks one major issue to address at a national summit. In 2010, it was improving police response to people with mental illness and such conditions as autism.

"It has been a huge and significant part of our conversation in the last couple of years," said John Firman, director of research for the organization.

Firman, who participates in the Big Brother program, has a "little brother" with Asperger's. He said that when he goes out with the youngster, he sometimes wonders, "If anything would happen here, how would police deal with him?"

Among the summit's recommendations, Firman said, were that all officers be trained in how to deal with such people and that police work closely with families and community organizations.

Latson's case, however, was not a matter of a law enforcement officer being untrained, the prosecutor said. "This deputy has a 33-year-old mentally retarded child," Olsen said. "So the deputy is very sensitive to dealing with children with disabilities. He's lived it every day for the last 33 years."

Pained parents

On March 4, the jury found Latson guilty of four charges, including assault of a law enforcement officer and wounding in the commission of a felony. On May 19, he is scheduled to appear before Stafford County Circuit Court Judge Charles Sharp, who can accept or reduce the jury's recommended sentence.

Last week, prosecutors tried Latson on a breaking-and-entering charge related to an incident in 2009. In that case, prosecutors said, Latson rang the doorbell at a teenager's home. When the teen opened the door, Latson hit him and followed him inside. Latson pleaded guilty to assault last year. On Thursday, he was found guilty of breaking and entering.

"I'm not here to try to paint a pretty story about my son," but he is not the violent individual that Stafford authorities have depicted, said Latson's mother, Lisa Alexander. "Neli is not a danger to society. He doesn't belong in jail. He belongs at home."  Read the full article HERE.


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I want to add, to gain more insight into what happened to you and what families with autism are going through, I hope you will see the excellent documentary, "Who Killed Alex Spourdalakis".

Dear Amanda,
I too, hope you are ok. Thankfully, you walked away, but that man and his mother live with this 24/7, as do thousands of other families, more every day. I hope you will join in the movement to find a cure, the cause(s) and prevention, and to provide much needed community support. Because as of now, our government and public health officials are pretty much ignoring autism. They're going crazy, whipping up mass hysteria over a few cases of measles, while the autism epidemic goes unrecognized. In some places this is affecting 1 in 27 boys. We don't even have accurate figures because the CDC isn't counting current cases and when they do count, the stats come from I think 11 communities that they use as a representative sample. They are completely ignoring autism. You now know first hand how serious this epidemic is and it's only going to get worse. Please understand that this man who attacked you is very, very sick and desperately needs help that he is not getting.

Amanda, I'm sorry and hope you are OK. It'a a parent's worst fear - and most parents work day and night to give our kids proper skills. I fear many of our young men will end up in institutions including jail as a result of their autism.

Kim, Managing Editor AofA

i was the victim of a violent and unprovoked attack by a fully grown, non-verbal autistic man two nights ago. i was shopping at target, standing totally still trying to find an eyebrow brush. i wasn't moving, wasn't making any sounds or gestures, and i was alone.

this 6'4 man in his mid-20s simply walked up to me grabbed my by the throat and stared choking me. his tiny mother who had been about fifteen to twenty feet behind him rushed up and started pulling on his elbow while he was squeezing my throat and digging his nails into my skin. i grabbed his hand and tried to pull it off my throat at the same time, which just made him dig in harder. he was so strong! we pulled him off, and i was left with bloody scratches on my neck.

i had never seen either of these people before.

the mother had a laminated alphabet board which she used to start frantically spelling out "i am sorry" on his behalf, but he wrenched away from her and took off down another aisle. she said "i don't know what set him off..." and went after him.

i was a victim of assault. in this case "it's not a matter of time before he hurts someone." he hurt me. he shattered my safe bubble. he scared me. i was just trying to buy a makeup brush. i don't know what his intent was.

Kids with ASD don't understand violence as we do, much less the justice system. It is a neurological problem, not problem children.

Violence is still violence, regardless of the may cclaim that there was no criminal intent, but the outcome is still criminal if i am injured or killed because i did not run away as soon as i saw your autistic kid coming towards me or was taken by surprise by one on the exactly are the rest of us suppose to be understanding and supportive and become educated about people on the spectrum when our safety is a concern...i am not going to take it lying down or knocked down because your kid OR adult is out of control and you want to flip a plastic coated card at me, which says autism is to blame...those cards are for shit as a bandage or as a shield from blows in the theater or grocery store or parking lot of my apartment complex or bus stop or church or as i attempt to pickup a non-autistic child from school...and i have to be extra vigilant as autism now has "epidemic" not even ty that disability claim when your autistic is the reason for my hospital visit

I wont even read that the other comments , but I will say I have a 10 year old son with Asperger's syndrome a form of autism alone with Odd and Mood disorder . I do agree that police officers need to be trained better to deal with these kind of cases . Only cause I have had to call the police myself for help with my son fighting me and many times really hurt me because he does not know how strong he really is. I had some very nice cops show up and deal with it and then again I have had some cops that show up while im having to restrain my son and think im totally wrong and tell me things they know nothing of !! I have had a paramedic tell one office to stop telling me not to talk to my son because he thought what I was saying was wrong . When the paramedic said shhh she knows what she is saying . I told the officer that you cant just expect him to understand what your saying with out being blunt with him and letting him know what will happen to him if what he was doing kept on. Children like my son , most off at his age don't get the in between stuff . You have to be open with then and let them know the truth and how things have to work . But Just a mother dealing with her son saying some cops need to learn more before they jump in, because a mother restraining her child is not abuse , its helping him not to hurt himself or others. I am always full of bruises having to restrain my son. But I leave no marks on him . And that's how it should be!! Just saying !!

I'm a care giver and just recently have my hours changed from 40 a week to about 70. The other care giver had quit with no notice and no one will accept a job with this person. By the end of the week I find myself drinking(alcohol) way more than someone should. I can't sleep more than two hours a night and I constantly feel like I'm going to be attacked in my own house. Is there any advice someone can give to me. I've gone to see a doctor and they diagnosed me with mild depression. All this worry and trouble for 8 bucks an hour isn't worth it but I can't quit, his parents are elderly and I couldn't allow them to be harmed because of this individual.

"My son /daughter came home with a massive bruise from the respite centre / school" people obviously if your son/daughter is trying to attack the carers they will have to restrain them (hold them by their arms until they calm down and aren't dangerous for other people.! None of the family ever talks or moans about the bruises, bites, pulled air, spitting tantrums and so on the carers have to endure for you people to just complain about how evil the centres that look after YOUR kid. If your kid is violent at home more than likely they will be towards the poor carer that's receiving £6.50 and hour to be a punching bag!
This is a job I wish I never ever have to do again! Poorly paid and specially poorly appreciated. This has put me off having kids so bad as well! I really feel sorry for all the mums and dads and other family who have to LIVE in the same house as autistic one should have to go through that! I mean the stories I' know: being woken up by someone attacking you, having your whole house and belongings destroyed/ thrown at you, them shitting on the floor and then smearing your house in shit and some even trowing it at you! Damn! People, you don't and shouldn't have to endure that! Just do yourself a favour before you become depressed and ill or seriously hurt : put your son/daughter in care and for once appreciate the carers work. None of the carers will think you are a bad person for doing it. They have first hand experience and appreciate it is extremely hard and mentally/physically draining. At least carers can go home at the end of their shifts (traumatized and constantly stressed) but you live in this situation 24/7.. I applauded you and think you should have recognition but also think you have to care about yourself and the rest of your family (other siblings ) , autistic kids mostly just think about their needs, they don't care if you are tired, if their sister is sick an so on, they will just keep on pushing boundaries and try to get their own way .. Yes, they can be affectionate sometimes but 5 min later they are threatening to kill you! And you never know when they actually mean it!
I must say sometimes I'm even scared to walk on the street.. With so many violent disabled kids/adults out there you never know when you will strike their eye and they'll have an outburst at you . People even drive cars and vans with these violent people knowing it is a risk to themselves and the whole society, the amount of people who nearly had accidents and probably have because they have been hit whilst driving is crazy..
This subject can really make me talk! But it's time to shut up now..
On a last note, I wish you people who have this hard job the best of luck and just wish you start thinking about yourselves and the whole community as well.

Someone once commented that their kid built up to a lot of aggression and then had a seizure and became calm for a while. That it became so bad they wanted their child to have a grand mal.
Something to check out and not as easy to get them to pay attention or properly check either. I think any kid that a parent is saying they think migh have seizures ahould be checked long term and not some little five minute EEG.

In our case simply managing to bring back a gluten-free diet - despite institutional resistance - resulted a massive reduction in distressing symptoms. We wondered whether he was suffering from esophagitis for one thing.

My autistic, non-verbal son is now almost 19 and his violent outbursts have gotten worse. My 16 year old daughter and I just spent close to an hour battling his attacks that spilled out of the house like a bad episode of Jerry Springer. I had to call for help from his father. I fear that there is something medical related to this, seizures, or something we have not been able to determine. I'm wondering if anyone on this site has had any luck finding anything medical behind the sudden, random outbursts (there is no detectable pattern)....? Any insight would be so appreciated.........

Lost and Afraid,

My nephew must live at a residential center because of his violent outbursts. He was waking his mother every night by beating her. No warning, he'd just attack.

The decision was not an easy one for her, but it is the only one that made sense. There were also elderly people (my father) and children (his niece and nephews) who were being harmed.

He seems much happier these days with day-to-day life where he can adhere to structure and a strict routine. In fact, he's happier than I've ever seen him.

He is nonverbal. extremely aggressive and at age 14, still not potty trained. Sometimes the toughest decision is the right decision. There was a great deal of grief in the process, but I think the decision saved a family.

I also have a son with autism and hope that I never have to make such a decision.

Dear Lost and Afraid,

I understand your feelings but please know that for many children, teens and adults with severe autism and aggression, it is pain and often infection that can drive the behaviors that you see.

GI issues, food allergies, bacterial, viral and parasitic infections may be the epicenter of what you see. Finding a doctor who tests and treats would be key. Many are seeing autism as a disorder of the immune system, the corrrect research, rather than a psychiatric disorder. You can google "Stop calling it autism' as a group to refer to or read up on autism and pandas/pans.

These are medical issues for many and the more severe the behaviors, the more severe for these kids.

Best of luck to you and your family.

I have a 16-year-old brother-in-law with severe autism, and he gets very violent on almost a daily basis. I didn't have any experience with autism before him, and my wife and mother-in-law seem to forget this, as now I'm not even allowed to say anything to him when he's doing something wrong. I've been accused of being at fault for his outbursts of violence, and I've been threatened by members of my wife's family with physical violence if they hear about me treating him that way again. His father took his own life last year, and since then it's gotten worse and worse. Now this kid who can't even communicate that he has to go to the bathroom until he's shit his pants, has this huge emotional trauma to deal with. And since his mother had to go to work to provide for the family, my wife got stuck watching him almost every day, so now I have this violent person in my home at least four or five days a week. I fear for the safety of my one-year-old daughter, who he has already hit once before (and I got blamed for that incident).
There are no resources for people in my position. I've tried doing research online about the link between autism and violence, and how to deal with it. Everything I've found is useless. Some of the articles sugar-coat the problem by coming out with statistics about how violence is only present in 3% of autistics. Well, that's fantastic for the other 97%, but what am I supposed to do the next time I get head-butted in the chest because I won't let him run out of my apartment before everyone else is ready to go? The rest of the articles I've found are terrifying, like the story of Trudy Steurnagel, who was beaten to death by her autistic son.
I don't know what to do. My wife and mother-in-law think that he'll come out of the autism to a degree, but I don't see it. They're basing this hope on my sister-in-law coming out of her shell to a degree, but she only has Aspberger's and not full-blown autism. On top of that, in the eight years I've known him I've only ever seen him get worse. It has me wondering what would have to happen before they finally admit he's dangerous. Does someone have to get seriously injured in one of his attacks?
I'm trying not to resent him, but it's becoming increasingly difficult. His violent behavior towards everyone around him has me afraid for my daughter's safety. Because my wife is stuck watching him constantly, she can't get a job, and we're struggling financially. Any time I try to talk to her about the situation, I'm either met with hostility or silence.

This is a very very tough life to live in dealing with the anger and violence that comes one day for a permanent stay in our child's lives. I am going through lots of these stories on a daily basis, he hits walls kicks, hits windows then us for trying to keep him safe, I have to wrestle my son down once a week to keep him safe from himself, this match lasts 45 minutes to the tee, every time, looking at home placement, I vowed to keep him till the day I died, never thought that it would actually be till HE died, but he did, my son is gone deeper and deeper Into autisms grip, and was replaced with an angry angry stranger whom I no longer know, god bless all who are living this life

My 12 yr old son, who has Autism/epilepsy, seems to go thru a stage where he see's/hears things. Generally followed by the pupils dilating so as we cannot see the blue of his eyes and then he becomes incrediably violent.... The Dr's have ruled out Temperal lobe epilepsy, leaving us with just the diagnosis of Autism. I simply do not know what to do...
Can somebody help us????

Blake and Michele

I feel that I can relate to you so much. My severely autistic 19 y/o brother, Danny is very violent and destructive. Anything can trigger his fits. Most of the time his aggression is aimed at me and my other brother who are both living at home and over the age of 21. Everyday is a struggle. If I try just having a normal conversation with my mom or dad in Danny's presence it will lead to his violent intruption /outburst and it never ends well. Family car rides are out of the question now. My arms are bruised because he is constantly pinching or slapping me. And my parents do NOTHING. They continue to make excuses for his actions and I feel that they are not getting him enough help. They say that he sees the same psychiatrist for 3 years/and psychologist but no real improvements are being made. What do we do? Danny is not a cute little boy anymore. He is well over 220 lbs, and about 5'8. I am just waiting for the day when someone is sent to the hospital due to his violence. And then what will the excuse be? I love Danny an I love my parents, but if it doesn't get better i feel that I will move out someday and never come around... Not even to help because I don't feel safe. Don't tell me I'm selfish or insensitive either because I have lived with him my entire life and have been very patient and tolerant with him. It is just that now I fear for the safety of my parents, my other brother and myself.
I would love to speak to someone who feels the same way in further detail. Please let me know

I am scared. Scared for my child and yes scared for me. I don't know how much longer I can do this. I have done as much as humanly possible and what my consultants have told me to do. I have been a true partner to all of my son's educators and have been grateful for their support. 90% of the time he is fine, in his own world maybe, talking to himself but fine. Then comes the meltdown. Something that he wants that he's not allowed to have or the school vacation is over and he has to go back. Yes, medications are given but do they work? mabye, sometimes, I don't know. If we switch meds or change doses we have a huge problem and could lead to more aggression. How I would love to see a baseline with no meds but he would have to be hospitalized for that. It all started with the f#@&$#@ Thomas the train. Although not allowed to have it, still obsessed and still watches all the movies in his head. Would it be easier to just let him do what he wants? Let the school be a babysitter? If he's not independent and learns for himself, who will care for him when I am dead? That is the thought that drives me. I am so tired and so burnt. Where is the "father" you ask? He's around does what he can but he's a supporting actor in this drama and I am the lead. So tired...Happy Autism Awareness day...Light it up Blue!!! Autism Sucks! Thanks for reading.

I have worked with adults challenged with developmentmental, physical and mental disabilities for ten years.

Right now, I have a bloody leg from am attack yesterday. Today, that individual took out a window.

Most of the clients I have worked with have not been violent. However, the ones that are, traumatize staff, injure staff and others. Those, other individuals who already have been through bloody hell.

I don't have the answer for this, but we all have to

come up with a game plan soon!

Staff are so poorly paid, most of us scrape by to pay rent. I have not had enough money to eat at times. I sometimes am worried I won't be able to put fuel in the car to get to work.

I truly care for the individuals I serve, as I know the families love adore, and cheering their special needs adult children. There are many blessings each one gives to the world. Although, I agree that police intervention is not the most helpful strategy, we have to come up with something.

We teach people in our society, it is wrong to injure, assult, and kill. We teach people it is wrong when someone does that to you. We can not keep allowing the violence to continue, it is harmful to everyone.

I know there must be creative answers we can find. Excusing violence is never okay. I appreciate this conversation. We need to stop being afraid of it.

My issue is this. My little brother has autism and can really aggressive when he doesn't get his way.
He once bit me and left a huge scar when I asked why my little sister was crying. Truly it's a pain
To deal with because it's gotten to the point I have to walk on egg shells around my house even though I'm a 22 year old man. I can't even watch my own tv that I paid money for in our room or he'll come out and say to my parents "I don't like my brothers", or "I'm gonna hurt Blake really bad mom". It's truly a cluster fuck and I honestly feel hurt because I really don't do anything to him. I don't cuss around the house,
I even have to leave the house to call my friends on the phone or he'll say I'm cussing which I have honestly not done around him. he does have a tendency to have bad fits of rage and even throw or hit people in the family. What does one do about an issue it's hurting me, my family and to some degree I dont know if I want to have kids in the future because I fear having an autistic child.

I know that this may sound strange to you but why don't they have a clothing store for just people with autism? That has clothes that say I'm autistic so people don't over react. From what I'm told there are no more mental hospitals, or institutions. The government doesn't want to babysit these people. Now they are sent home, and services don't always work. The middle class can not get medicaid for support. The institutions, and mental hospitals were shut down because of abuse, and deaths that happened there. The first poster is an awful person to talk like that. How would you feel to have a child you can't talk to, and then find out society wants to just toss them aside. Worse yet send them to a government institution knowing they could be treated worse than dogs. Guess what autism is not a mystery it is a poison, and nobody has the right to determine who lives or dies. When all these autistic kids interrupt your schools, destroy your buildings, and wreck havoc on those who think they can control them then maybe this will stop. With autism nobody will ever get a good nights rest. Even if you don't have autism everyones lives will be affected by it. To many people, and government thinks they can keep on ignoring it.

Going to be the voice of dissent here. If you don't want your special needs child to get his/her head blown off for threatening to kill everyone in an unmedicated rage, then you need to have that child institutionalized. Personally, if I got attacked by an autistic or schizophrenic person, I wouldn't care what was wrong with their heads. My only concern would be staying alive and if I felt threatened, I would shoot regardless of the attacker's sanity.

It's unrealistic to expect everyone to kowtow to your children. People might be a bit more forgiving if a 5-year-old autistic child has a tantrum, but when that child is 25 years old, 200 pounds and is beating a random person bloody...not so forgiving. Despite what anyone says, these violent autistics ARE dangerous to society. Just because they may not have control over their behavior doesn't mean they can't hurt or kill someone. That's like saying, "Don't put down a rabid dog because he can't help how he is." It may not be their fault, but they still pose a threat to the rest of us.

And unfortunately, while the autistic's parents may be accustomed to abuse and pain from their children, everyone else will not be. If you don't want your kids to end up dead or in jail, I strongly suggest putting these special needs children and adults into mental hospitals and keeping them there. You can campaign to the public and train the police all you want, but if your child messes with the wrong person, they may very well end up with a bullet between their eyes because you expect the rest of the world to conform to your child's needs.

My 16 yr old autistic is becoming very violent towards me , his mother and I am terrified . On Xmas day he got my neck and strangled me leaving welts feeling like he was going to snap my neck in an instant. He was always extremely anxious, but Nvr acted out at me. I am terrified what will be next and how do I handle this . He has no ideawhat an injury or death means. Once calming down after giving him medication, just repeats I'm sorry mommy all day long . I am a single mother and he is bigger than me already. Where do we go from here . There is no homes that r trust worthy and the only good one r for rich people!!!!

Peter, hi, I'm Kim, I'm Managing Editor here and I have three girls with full autism. I'm so glad you commented. No, Asperger's is not full blown autism. That's not to say many people with Asperger's don't face tremendous challenges in social and employment and even legal/police situations. It is a difficult balancing act to get help for those who need it, while respecting those who do not. We're mindful of that.

Thanks for commenting here - do come back, we value your opinion.


I am 14 and have been diagnosed with Aspergers syndrome. I am pretty much just like any other teen. I know that there are plenty of other people who have a more major dose of autism, but NOT EVERYONE DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM IS SIGNIFICANTLY IMPAIRED IN COMMUNICATION/OTHER SKILLS! That annoys me the most, people assuming that if you have autism, you have a major dose. That's not true. I do everything else a normal 14 year old does, I play basketball, use the computer, etc. I'm very good with computers-- I'm currently working on learning C++, if you don't know what that is then I'm definitely better with computers... ;) I do not go To a therapist, I take a minamal amount of medicine, 20mg Fluoxitine (I have no idea if I spelled that right :)) per day. Bottom line is: Autism does not necessarily mean that your severely impaired, its possible, but not definite.

The safety of our now 21 year old son with autism is constantly on our minds as his parents, and has been since he was a young child. Now that he is 6 feet 2 inches and 240 pounds and at times exhibits strange behaviors that might mimic someone on drugs who is dangerous, we worry anytime he is not in our presence. Police need training in this very important area. Our son has a medical bracelet, but is the policeman going to look at it before he shoots? In our crazy world today in which so many policemen have been killed by crazed people, they are rightfully scared of those who might appear menacing. In the case of our son and other disabled persons who might act out strangely, but who are not dangerous, it is imperative that law enforcement and the populace in general become more aware of these innocent and vulnerable members of our society.

It is scary. The skin of my arms and neck is crisscrossed by scars that have accumulated over 20 years of scratching, biting and pinching. I have a permanently numb thumb due to a bite that severed a nerve. I have been kicked, I have had my hair pulled...The frustration caused by her inability to communicate effectively causes my daughter to lash out.
Once she calms down she gives me hugs and smiles that make my heart melt.
What will come of my daughter when I am too old to keep up with her?

Sadly we will see more of this. My son has some aggression issues and he is six years old and minimally verbal. He has two other kiddos in his kindergarten class that have aggression. The fact is, these kids didn't exist a couple decades ago, or it was very rare. I worry about the future every day. Don't get me wrong, we are doing everything in our power to curb the behaviors and heal him, but sometimes it's not enough. When will people wake up to this problem? Personally I think we will see A LOT more backlash before any positive changes occur.

It is obviously the money that is going to be the issue. No reason given the proliferation of the problem why we cannot develop the culture and experience, or in an age of high unemployment not find the manpower. It is the public will, which is why we have to challenge the official lies at every turn.

Some years ago our 14 year-old son was returned home from the local respite service after a weekend stay. Two gigantic male support workers stood menacingly in the door way of our house, one spherical like a ball, the other over 7 feet tall: the ball announced, waving a finger at me 'That boy: he very badly behaved!'. Later on when our son was having a bath we found a huge bruise, in the range of 7x4 inches on his upper arm. The respite service blamed it on the school, although he had been in their care for two days without them saying anything, and the child protection enquiry got nowhere. Fortunately, he had come there from school and the respite people at least admitted he had the bruise in their care, otherwise we might easily have been scapegoated ourselves.

It is very clear that unless there are adequately funded sensitive specialist services, that very bad things will keep on happening.

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