|Norrin - March 2009|
It happened while I was touring schools. A few of the schools I toured went up to 21 years old.
There was one young man - tall, lanky, a few hairs sprouting from his upper lip. He approached one of the women on the tour - stuck out his hand and yelled "Hi. My name is Daryl. What's your name?" The woman jumped in surprised, held out her hand reluctantly and whispered her name.
I realized she was scared. I wondered how a woman could tour a special needs school for her child and then be scared of the population?
Daryl reminded me of an older version of The Boy. The same self stimulatory behaviors. The shaggy hair falling over his brow, the wide trusting smile, the lankiness of his limbs.
I realized that while at 3, 4 or 5 - The Boy's behaviors could be seen as cute, quirky - even endearing. At 16, 17, 18 - those cute little behaviours could be seen as weird, suspicious. Threatening.
I hadn't thought about Daryl in months. Then Trayvon Martin was murdered. And then Ross Harrison - a 13 year old autistic Bronx boy - went missing. Ross Harrison has since been found, safe.
And I haven't stopped thinking about Daryl and those seconds of fear that woman felt.
What if it would have been a dark street? Late at night. A strange face in a 'good' neighborhood. What if Daryl approached a grown man with a gun - wanting to protect his neighborhood from a suspicious character? Would Daryl be identified as suspicous or Autistic?
Trayvon Martin wasn't autistic. But he was a young African American male who "looked suspicious."
Ross Harrison is autistic and a young man of color, wandering the subway system - completely lost and alone. And for those 3 days Ross was missing - I feared for his safety. All I could think about was Trayvon Martin. And if Ross looked suspicious to anyone. I couldn't imagine what his parents must have been going through.
One day, The Boy will be a young man. And he's Latino. The Boy will probably continue to dress like The Husband: baggy camo pants, hoodies and high top sneakers. And The Boy's behaviors could make him look suspicious.
I've lived in New York City all of my life. I grew up in Queens. And I now live in The Bronx. We live in a working class neighborhood. There is crime and racial profiling exists.
I've seen young men of color stopped in street and padded down for no reason. I've seen kids get beat up. I've seen blood splattered on sidewalks. I've seen prostitutes, pimps and crackheads. I've seen drugs exchange hands. I've been in bodegas (small grocery stores) with bullet proof glass. I've heard the sound of gun shots in the middle of the night. I have friends who have been robbed at gunpoint. Not only in The Bronx but everywhere. It's part of living in an urban environment aka "The Hood."
Two years ago, my cousin (who has a developmental/intellectual disability) went missing for three days. He was found in a hospital - brutally beaten by a group of teenagers who misinterpreted my cousin's behaviors as "disrespectful."
The Boy won't be 17 for 11 more years. And while New York doesn't have the same gun laws that Florida does - my mind still wanders to the what if.
Autistics in the hood need to learn social skills, self help skills and street skills.
Are there programs in place to teach young men and women on the spectrum how to deal with the Police? How to deal with crime? Do we teach them to identify themselves as Autistic? Or will this make them even more of a target?
How do we keep our kids safe from the George Zimmerman's of the world?
I guess I still have some time to figure it out.
In the meantime, I'm going to check out these websites below:
Howard County Autism Society - The Howard County Autism Society of America, together with its partners, the national office of the Autism Society of America (ASA), and Law Enforcement Awareness Network (L.E.A.N. on Us), with a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime is working to develop and pilot a model, replicable Victims with Autism Assistance, Education, and Training Program.
Autism Risk Management - Autism training and resources for law enforcement, emergency first responders, parents, educators, care providers, and the autism community.