Do we need all court personnel to be autism aware?
When he was 13, my son with autism was subpoenaed to appear in court. He was a victim—A young man in school felt it was okay to hit my son, not once, but twice within the same week. Supposedly my son looked “funny” to him. The case was turned over to the State Attorney’s Office. When we received the subpoena I knew that I had to prepare my son. I advised him that we would have to go to court.
The first words out of my son’s mouth were “I’m going to kill him.” I knew my son didn’t mean what he said. My son was frustrated that his peer thought it was okay to hit him. He was hurt by his classmate and didn’t understand why he did it. If my son said what he did when we received the subpoena in the courtroom, how would that have been received?
How fair was this to my son?
I was able to find a court advocate that got my son out of going to court. Now I ask myself if this was really the best outcome for him. The court advocate spoke to me, not my son. I was able to provide input on the community service the young man should receive. My son, the victim wasn’t asked what he thought. How fair was this to my son?
Did they think he wouldn’t be a good witness?
The second time my son was subpoenaed was as a witness. He was 17 at the time. He was walking with two of his friends, a man approximately 28 years old jumped out of his car and started beating up one of my son’s friends.
I’m thankful that a Federal law enforcement officer heard the boys screaming for the man to stop and came to assist them. The officer brought my son home. I advised my son that we would need to go to court. This time my son wanted to go to court. When we received the subpoena I called the attorney and advised her my son has autism. She asked if he would be able to come in and speak with the judge and attorneys. I informed her that he would. My son was dismissed from the case. I understand that he may not have been needed. On the other hand, did the attorney’s feel that he may not have been a good witness? No explanation was provided.
Do court personnel receive any autism awareness training?
Before my son was dismissed from the second case, I asked the attorney if they had a program in place for an autistic individual so they could familiarize themselves with the layout of the courtroom, meet the attorney’s, the judge and all other court personnel? The answer was no. So now I have been setting up tours of the local law enforcement agencies for the families that have a loved one with autism as well as meet and greets for the parents and caregivers. All parties involved have found these to be very useful and informative.
Why aren’t we doing this with our courts?
More and more individuals with autism are driving, going to college or trade school, working and doing business in our communities. This also means that they are going to be victims and witnesses to crimes. Will an attorney understand when someone like my son doesn’t give eye contact? Will the court bailiff understand when an ASD individual starts to talk to themselves and then starts to stim? Does the Judge understand that an ASD person wants to please and may say yes to questions that they shouldn’t?
Individuals living under the spectrum are over 7x more likely to come in contact with law enforcement. They are commonly mistaken as being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, someone displaying suspicious behaviors and being evasive or deceitful during questioning.
Yes, training for law enforcement and court personnel is necessary and should be mandatory. I’m working hard to make that happen in our community. I hope that you will speak out to make it happen in yours.
*Trish Ieraci is the vice president and trainer for PRAY (Providing Relief for Autistic Youth). She conducts workshops and lectures to teach emergency personnel, law enforcement agencies, court personnel, and other community leaders about autism. Her awareness education and techniques for first-responders is making it safer for individuals on the autism spectrum. FACEBOOK | TWITTER
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