By Nancy Hokkanen
Read part 1 here.
Many thorny sociological threads are interwoven within the chilling July 18 police shooting of Florida behavior therapist Charles Kinsey in front of his autistic group home patient, Arnaldo Rios-Soto:
- A calm, unarmed black professional man lying hands up, on the ground, on his back… who still was shot by a police officer.
- An agitated young man with autism who’d run away from his care center, who police later said was the original target of the shooting.
- A young police officer with SWAT training who’d received misinformation from 911 dispatch, whose two other shots missed their marks.
Those three men’s lives intersected against a tense societal backdrop of increasing gun violence reported in international media. Three men whose parents were relieved that their son was not killed.
The thoughts of North Miami police officer Jonathan Aledda before he fired his gun may never be fully understood. One key factor deserves examination: The citizen eyewitnesses who’d called 9/11 had misinterpreted autistic behaviors. That mistake caused lifelong trauma for all three men, and nearly resulted in the death of either or both innocent citizens.
The general public’s inability to recognize behaviors common in the growing autism community indicates that autism awareness efforts need a change.
Question: Who’s been misinforming or under-informing the public about the realities of autism?
Let’s start with mainstream media reporting, which skews toward upbeat stories of quirky kids showcasing some special talent. Depending on legislative focus, people with severe autism might be portrayed as drains on tax-funded services. Or those with autism lead the nightly news when they’ve gone missing, were found dead, or perpetrated a crime such as a fatal shooting.
Another problem is autism advocacy groups with financial links to organizations with questionable motives. Spectrum News, funded by the Simons Foundation, writes about children who mysteriously grow out of autism. Another group, Autism Speaks, lists early signs of autism but their byzantine website takes you down one rabbit hole of generalizations after another.
Government agencies have been disgracefully impotent regarding public education on autism behaviors and the challenges faced by people with autism, their families and caregivers. To many frustrated autism parents, the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee epitomizes government inaction and waste. “I cannot keep coming here and talking about the same issue time after time after time,” said Dr. Albert Enayati at the IACC’s most recent meeting.