Autism and Law Enforcement

One of the scariest experiences I've ever had with my son was during a play date at the park. I was with another friend, who has two sons with autism. My kids and hers were having a ball playing, when another boy approached them and asked to play with them as well. I had seen his mom, who was there on a play date with another family, and knew she was helping her kids on the swings. I'm one of those moms who pays attention to who's kid belongs to who when I'm at the park and am very aware of our surroundings in case our son decides to run away.

The kids played together for about twenty minutes, when my son asked if he could ride the little boy's trike. The boy said yes and that all the kids could take turns. My son happened to be the first, and rode the trike down the sidewalk and into the tennis court where he turned around. The kids ran behind him, yelling and laughing, while my friend and I walked behind them. I remember seeing the other kids' mom stalk into the tennis court. From the way she was carrying herself, I could tell she was upset about something. I quickened my pace, then began to run as I saw her yell at my son, grab his arm and start yanking him off the bike. She kept pulling him against the handlebars while he screamed and cried until he came free of the bike, then held him suspended in the air for a few minutes, and dropped him onto the court where he landed on his knees and rolled away. All of my children were bawling and came running to me, clinging to my legs.

Then the mother came screaming at me about how I'm such a bad mother and that I needed to keep better track of my kids. How they had no right to be on her son's bike, etc. I remember I just wanted to rip this woman's face off. I wanted to punch her until she couldn't ever speak again. How DARE she touch my son! I remember repeating over and over, "You don't ever touch someone else's child." while she continued to tell me I was a horrible mother. I told her my son had autism and I was shocked when she said, "Well congratulations, my son does too."

I turned away and took my kids to the picnic table. There were already bruises forming across my son's chest from where she yanked him against the trike's bars, as well as bruises on his arm from where she had grabbed him. I put my kids into my van and called my husband who worked two blocks away from the park. He left a meeting to come meet us. Along the way, there was an officer on the side of the road. My husband approached him and told him our son had just been assaulted at the park. The officer accompanied my husband to the park.

The woman became so upset, yelling and screaming at the officer, he had to call back-ups and they threatened to call DCFS if she didn't calm down. She was charged with child abuse and a few other things. This is just the beginning of a long, disappointing battle.

Our lawyers talked. She wanted a lesser charge because she wanted to adopt more children. We found out she really does have a son with autism. I couldn't imagine how she treated her family based on her conduct that day. Do you know what we asked for? We asked that she take anger management and parenting classes. The best thing I could think of was counseling to deal with situations better - especially since raising a child with special needs is extremely stressful.

The results? The judge gave her a smack on the wrist (she did get a lesser charge of child abuse because we wouldn't budge on it) and said we were holding up the courts over a misunderstanding during a play date. I still have very upset feelings about the results.

I walked away from this incident with a whole new set of fears.

What if one day my son wanders off? What if a police officer interprets his behavior as aggressive and unco-operative? What if someone thinks it's a domestic violence situation during one of his melt-downs, especially with him getting older and bigger? What if, one day, I can't protect him and help others understand him anymore?

I am truly afraid of how others misinterpret my son. I see all this progress he's made and I see the joy and love he has inside. But I also see the difficulties he has in certain situations and how upset he can become.

My friend, Teri, sent me a link to this video from Utah's KSL news station. I'm not sure if the video below will work or not. If it doesn't, click on the video link and it will take you to the KSL website.

Video Courtesy of

In the news clip, they talk about Sahara Cares and their new DVD teaching law enforcement officers how to recognize signs of autism in children, teens, and adults, as well as how to communicate and help them in a variety of situations. It was difficult for me to watch because it brought all those fears to the surface, but it's actually a very informative video. You can watch it for free on their website. It's available for purchase for just $5, basically the cost of supplies and shipping. You can watch the DVD here.

Would you like to comment?

Casdok said...

So sorry to read this. But a very important topic to share.I have the same fears as you because of things that have happened to my son.
Here in the UK we have a similar scheme with our Police.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what a terrifying story. We've had one incident with neighbors who didn't understand and it made me ill for weeks was nowhere near as gut-wrenching as this story.

I am so sorry you had to go through that. I'm glad you shared it though. It' is important to be aware of the dangers.

You did the right thing.

Cindy Beck, author said...

I'm so sorry that happened. Some times people are just plain wacked in the head! Hopefully a woman with those kinds of anger issues will not be adopting more children.

Kellie said...

Danyelle, you are so strong and amazing. I can't believe the judge basically let the woman go without anything.

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Casdok - Welcome to the QOTC blog! My sister is an officer in Pennsylvania, and they have a similar program there, too. I'm glad they have programs in the UK as well.

Carolyn, Cindy, & Kellie - Life certainly sends us interesting experiences to help us grow and become strong. Still, it's something I worry and think about anytime we go on a family outing or vacation. The only place I really feel comfortable is other special needs events.

Marcia Mickelson said...

What a scary park story. Sorry you had to go through that. Thanks for sharing the video. It's so important to get that kind of info out there.

G. Parker said...

Oh wow...we haven't had any issues at parks, but my son picked all my neighbors flowers one day and we had to put them all back. I've often wondered if my son was going to land us in trouble. When we first moved here and didn't have the double locks on the windows, he ran down the street watching the water in the gutter. An older man brought him back, all upset about this kid going to get run over by a car. sigh.
At least he cared enough to bring him home...
thanks for sharing, and I am so impressed by how you have handled your special children

Danyelle Ferguson said...

Gaynell - Wow. I would have been totally freaked out. I worry about Isaac wandering off and not being able to communicate well enough who he is, his address, parents, etc. Even though I know he knows most of that information, he could be too upset to relay it.

We went on vacation once to Branson and decided to go to church while we were there. Isaac was in Sunbeams at the time. My hubby and I talked to the primary presidency about his autism and John was going to stay with Isaac for all of primary. About the last ten minutes of RS, I started to feel like I really needed to go check on Isaac. But I thought - no, John's with him. He's fine. By the time the closing prayer was said, I was jumping out of my seat the urge was so strong. I got to his class to discover that the teacher had let the kids out five minutes early with no adult supervision - and John wasn't with Isaac. They had sent him to priesthood because Isaac was doing so well. John specifically told the teacher to keep Isaac in the classroom until he arrived to pick him up. But the teacher let him go. We searched all over the building and could not find him anywhere. We finally found him in someone else's VAN! Inside the VAN! I cried all day. What if that person would have kidnapped him? Or hurt him? Or set him loose not knowing he had no idea where to go or what to do? I decided that day that it was the last time we were going to church at an unfamiliar church building when we were on vacation.

Raising a child with special needs is very stressful. I wish more people understood, were aware, and responsible when working with our kids.

ali cross said...

Wow, what an ordeal. I'm so sorry you had to go through that Danyelle.

My oldest son, Sam, had autism though we didn't know it at the time. Originally he was dx with being on the autistic spectrum, but he was also dx with reactive attachment disorder and they said you couldn't be autistic and RAD at the same time.

Anyway, we were investigated by DCFS because Sam was extremely violent and someone saw us trying to contain his outburst and it looked like we were abusing him. Thankfully, we were able to prove the truth and the social worker assigned to our case was thorough in doing his job and found us to be truthful and parents only doing our best in an extremely difficult situation.

But it's always my fear. Even now with Sam living in another state, with another family, I fear for him and the trouble he could unwittingly get himself into.

Anyway. Just ... hugs, I guess. I feel your pain!

Anonymous said...

Oh Hon, what a horrible ordeal for all of you. That woman was a monster and should not have been able to adopt more what with the anger issues she had. It does not matter what she thought - she should never had laid a hand on your child. Period! Good for your husband for coming to help, quickly and bringing help. Hopefully this will make the woman stop and think when her temper starts to rise next time.

Love the idea of the law enforcement training for this. Thank you for the information. It is always helpful and appreciated.

themeese2 said...

Appalling. Absolutely appalling. That woman should have her kids taken away from her! I am so sorry you had to go through that.

Jenna said...

I'm so sorry this happened to you and your family, Danyelle. For some reason, we have always been blessed with Daniel--even though he has gone over and eaten a stranger's birthday cake at a pizza place before, and he has run off in his underwear and been returned to me by the UPS man, and we have had the police out to our house when he wandered off right after we moved into our house. In all of these stressful situations I was surprised by the understanding of the strangers involved. It always pains me to hear of others having such trouble with their children in public and I just wish that more people were willing to give our kids the benefit of the doubt and to treat us and them with respect and understanding. I've experienced that time and time again, and I so wish that for everyone else who cares for a special child.