[OPINION] The police need autism training

My son is a 28-year old on the autism spectrum. He has matured into this amazing person we could not have imagined him becoming back when he was an uncontrollably wild child, diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) at age five.

As a family, we became companions on a journey, riddled with unconventional ups and downs. For every hundred souls we meet who kindly accept, accommodate, and appreciate my son's uniqueness, there are always a handful who bully, ridicule, or ignore him for being different. When my son suffers from these small acts of aggression, my heart aches and yearns to spare him from the harsh world.

So when Edwin Arnigo, an 18-year-old on the autism spectrum, was shot dead by police officers, we were mourning together with the tight-knit autism community. The family of this teen is living the nightmare many of us have – of having the police mistake our child’s idiosyncrasies for aggression. Cops will be relieved of their duty or will be reassigned, criminal cases will be filed, but nothing will bring back the life of a young man on the spectrum who was only beginning to shape his potential.

We must act so this tragedy never happens to another family again. Law enforcement agencies and first responders must be trained on behavioral markers in children and adults on the autism spectrum, as well as basic response techniques. They must be trained in autism recognition and response, so they are able to assess risks and act to address those risks. It is possible for police to protect and serve the public and avoid life-altering mistakes that can lead to death, lifelong trauma, and loss of confidence by the community.

Meaningful, positive interactions between teens and adults on the spectrum with police must be encouraged. Police must be prepared to support the autism community – which includes understanding people with autism when they are in crisis, as well as when they are not. Police must realize that those on the spectrum may behave differently – for example, their refusal to look them in the eyes is NOT a sign of guilt.

Before the pandemic, the PNP of Santiago, Isabela hosted children and youth of Autism Society Philippines for a day of sensitivity and exposure. When ASP conducted sensitivity training, the law enforcement officers met individuals on the spectrum, and the children and youth were able to build rapport with the police. This community’s work is worth emulating!

I echo the hope of Autism Society Philippines in our statement towards building “a culture of compassion and kindness" in today’s Filipino society. I pray for moments of enlightenment for law enforcement officials, who are jaded by the culture of death they see on the streets – enough of “kill or be killed!” I hope that amid the crime, they can see the humanity of those in their cross-hairs. I hope they are reminded of their pledge to serve and protect the vulnerable, in the eyes of everyone they point their guns at. – Rappler.com

Mona Magno-Veluz serves as the national president of Autism Society Philippines. She is a mom to three kids, with her eldest Carl on the autism spectrum. Her passion propels her to write and talk publicly about disability inclusion and PWD empowerment. Find her on Instagram and Twitter @mightymagulang.