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Aspie Interactions with the Police

Over the last few weeks, I've read several blogs where aspies have described their interactions with the law. In every case, the incidents were blown out of proportion by the tactics of the police and the social difficulties experienced by the aspie.

I too have had difficulties with the police (and other aspects of the law).

My first major police incident was as a teen being pulled over for speeding. At the time, I had an old car which took forever to warm up and I really knew very little about cars. The car was misbehaving and I thought that maybe it needed to warm up (in actual fact, it was overheating due to a burst water filter). I tried going fast to warm it up - and that was when the police turned up behind me.

I told the police that there was something wrong with the car and they just laughed and said "yeah, what? the brakes?". Luckily I knew to just keep quiet otherwise I'm sure they'd have tried to take things further.

Following the Wrong Rules
My second infraction was again, speeding but this time I knew I was in the wrong. I was pulled over and instead of waiting for the police, I decided to take matters into my own hands.

A few weeks earlier there had been a documentary on TV by Allan Pease, a famous body language expert. He suggested that it was best to approach police when in trouble and adopt a "lower then them" posture.

I really didn't want to have to pay a fine or to lose points off my licence. I remembered Allan Pease's information but knowing that the police were already stopped behind me, I knew I'd have to be quick to get into position. I jumped out of the car and started running towards the police.

They threw open their doors, took shelter behind them and pointed their guns at me. It didn't help that being deaf, it took a few shouts before I could understand that they were telling me to stop.

It took a lot of convincing (and a full car search) to let them know that I was innocent (except for the speeding). I didn't want to tell them the truth about the Allan Pease show because then I'd spoil my tactic. I think that they knew I was withholding some information and it was quite a while before they let me go.

Other Run-ins
I've had other run-in's with the police and with unsavory characters. Once, when I was about sixteen and on holiday in Perth, a man kept following me everywhere asking me to have a drink with him. I told him that I wasn't thirsty but he persisted. Then I said I wanted to look in a bookshop and he wanted to wait outside. Eventually I told him that I really needed to go home (which was the truth).

It wasn't until later when I was telling my mother about my day - and I mentioned this annoying person that I discovered that the man had been a pedophile.

And the point is....
All of this makes me wonder what the best approach for teaching my aspergers children about the real world is.

Preparing for Encounters with the Police
Certainly I need to ensure that they understand that whenever the police are involved, they need to just quieten down, accept where things are going and say almost nothing. In fact, they should probably request that their parents be contacted and wait until we arrive.

I'm not sure how well this would work with the police. The other options involve either registering my children with the police as having Aspergers syndrome (which translates to an "approach with caution" directive). I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not as it may increase the likelihood of a situation escalating to violence.

I'm increasingly thinking that a happy medium would be to provide them with a card that says they have aspergers and which explains some traits (and has my contact details). They're not old enough to carry a card without losing it yet but perhaps this is the best option.

Building appropriate levels of suspicion
It's very easy to set a trigger for a given type of behavior. For example; if someone, even a "little old lady" asks you to carry their bags through airport security, they're a drug dealer, it's a bad thing and "don't do it". Similarly, an adult who is interested in your genitalia and isn't a doctor is a pedophile.

Unfortunately, triggers aren't always so visible.

The little old lady could fake an accident and tell the aspie to take care of her stuff without raising suspicion. Similarly, in my case, the pedophile wasn't asking anything sexual. They just wanted to know if we could go for a drink.

An aspie will react to a black and white trigger but a "grey one" will slip by completely unnoticed. I don't want to make my kids suspicious of everyone but unless I instill in them a certain level of caution, they'll take anything for granted.

It's a difficult choice and I'm not entirely sure what the best answer is.


poetrygirl said…
Great commentary. Many thanks
Patty O. said…
This is such a great post. I never thought of preparing my son for these types of experiences, but as I read this post, I kind of panicked. I could really see my son acting in a way that would upset police. He's only 7, but when he's a teenager, he might have difficulty, because when he feels threatened, he doesn't respond well. I'm going to have to think about this and work on it. I like your idea of a card, though.
Anonymous said…
I agree with your assessment on registering with the police. However, I am not sure about the card idea either. I have a son that will be driving soon himself. With any stressful situation he begins to panic. The last thing I can imagine him doing is thinking about pulling out a card. I am not sure that is even within my own ability. Extremely relevant issue as always. I hope you post more on this topic.
Thank you!
Anonymous said…
Yes, this is an important post, I have 3 girls and this is what worries me the most. I think it is hard enough for kids who arent 'on the spectrum' to know how to respond to authority and who to trust etc. I must say, it scares the life out of me, my girls present as very smart little things but they are really socially so niave, and I cant be with them every minute of the day. I guess one part of the problem is that they dont 'present' as having any disability as such...
Anonymous said…
Excellent post. As an aspie female, I have learned (by my parents who didn't know I had AS) that I cannot trust anyone initially. Trust is something that's earned, and there are no grey areas. I won't accept something from a old lady because she's a stranger, just like I won't let a man approach me.

When it comes to the police, I've watched enough shows to know that my hands must remain on the steering wheel. I was just pulled over in Sept and used this tactic. Once the officer arrived to my window and asked for my license and registration, I asked permission to go into my glove box for them, and he granted it. I did everything I could to ensure I didn't provoke him. I felt threatened, but I understood that it was important the officer didn't feel threatened as well; and if I remained calm, he would also be calm.

Great post as always!
Timothy said…
I have Asperger’s, and have had incidents with the police in the recent past – mostly for the innocent act of walking on public sidewalks at night. I walk to the 24-hour wal-mart sometimes, often when I can’t sleep, and have been stopped randomly by cops about 1/2 the time (this amounts to a dozen times in the past year…). The interaction between law enforcement and Asperger’s is an important one – the thing that is likely to get us into trouble is our tendency to either be overly trusting, or extremely distrusting of authority figures. We can’t read them well, or at all. I have the former problem, I am overly trusting, because I cannot read officers’ intentions and because they tend to use calm passive and aggressive vocal tones as tactics trying to get innocent people to unknowingly forfeit rights and incriminate themselves. I was constantly being talked into being questioned, frisked, searched, and detained. The first 2 times I let it go. I had figured maybe this happens to everyone in the area, but by asking many neighbors I ascertained that it generally does not (they all think I’m odd, to boot). I don’t carry weapons, don’t do drugs, don’t even drink. But still these officers stop me, and I just have to assume it’s because of some “oddness” I’m giving off merely for existing in their line of sight. Basically, I don’t go outside after dark anymore because of this. My parents and friends became worried about me. Not because of crime or criminals, mind you, but because of law enforcement presence. So, because I cannot trust myself to read officers’ intentions in order to respond/behave in my own best interests, or trust the officers to have any respect for private citizens’ rights, I have a curfew. And I despise this reality, but have to agree it’s in my own best interests at this point. I’m going to get into some trouble, which I simply do not need. I think there is something really messed-up with America these days, based on this.
Clairelouise82 said…
This is an amazing post do you realise how much others will relate to your story and that of your worries for your children? Well I do. U just explained my own fears my son is scared of police his just 10. He was hit by an 18 year old they came over to my son (the police) he reacted badly. He had a meltdown and they couldn't get him in the car. The adult a friends mum was in the shops buying them ice cream they didn't beleive that and brought him home. I informed them of his AS stating it should be on record another time he was hit again he done the same thing lucky this time they noted his AS and were fantastic.x
Anonymous said…
this is so timely...i am struggling deeply with ways to help my son understand people and the world around him. he is high functioning enough to "pass" as NT at first glance yet at almost 7 is more naive than my 3 year old. thank you for some ideas and understanding of this matter. also nice to read the comments - very helpful.
Anonymous said…
I am currently 40 years of age; when I was 26 I was stopped, searched, photographed, suspected of being under the influence and questioned at length regarding my activities and movements for the act of riding my bicycle to the opposite corner of the street from where the officer was blocking my path with his car in the neighborhood I live in. A few months later this same officer again stopped, searched and lectured; claiming I had failed to make a proper stop.

Between then and the recent past few months, my interactions with different LE agencies had been brief, if warranted. I've only received 2 traffic citations in the meantime, but the impetus of my commenting is that in the recent past few months I'm beginning to feel targeted as a result of using a moped for transportation. As it happens to be a special interest of mine I often have clients who ask me to repair their mopeds.

Last week while out road testing a client's machine I was stunned, for lack of a better descriptive, when a sheriff stopped me and threatened to impound the bike. I feel the only thing that saved me (and the bike) was to disclose I have AS and feared having a meltdown. His demeanor rapidly changed to a more easygoing approach which I appreciated as it showed he has some knowledge of the condition.

However not all local agencies I have dealt or may deal with are aware of 'abnormal' reactions us aspies may have due to the magnified stress of being detained. After last week I had the thought of going to my local police department and 'going on file' as having AS so they'll know it's not as if I want to commit crimes, though beside my own city I can possibly travel through at least a dozen jurisdictions during an hour's travel. I've read about having a card made but I fear that might be too small to contain all explanatory information and may not appear 'official' enough
Miguel Palacio said…
Oh my God! Now, imagine being on the autism spectrum while black, or brown?

You might be lucky to survive any police encounter! Incidences of police brutality are bad enough as it is.

One may as well hang a sign on themselves that reads "just kill me". :-/

I'm brown. I am on the spectrum. I always seem suspicious to them. They usually go overboard. Once I had several rifles pointed at me as I kneeled in the middle of an intersection. One of them apologized later and gave me his business card saying that I looked like a suspect and when they stopped me I seemed "suspicious". The only apologetic cop of the bunch that gave me his card was also the only cop that was brown. That's probably what saved me. This was in Mississippi. And to my humiliation, this took place just one block from where I was living at the time so other neighbours gathered around to see my humiliation. None of the other cops were apologetic for having me at rifle point. They just simply walked away when they received a radio call that they had found the actual suspect.

So I simply avoid cops whenever possible. Band I'm terrified of them now that they seem taser happy and seeing all the bad publicity they've been getting for cold blooded murders of minorities. Sorry, but I certainly don't feel protected by them anymore.
Miguel Palacio said…
Perhaps the best response is a scripted and rehearsed response. A rules of engagement that people in the spectrum would try to follow, given law enforcement's lack thereof. An algorithm for interactions taking into account many of the possibilities.

My God, can you imagine someone on the spectrum being tased? How do you think they would react? On the phone one hand, a shutdown is possible. But, on the other hand, if a meltdown takes place, then that person would have a much higher propensity for a squashed windpipe, a severed spine or being shot to death, especially if they are of colour. Especially. It would only add insult to injury. Possibly even death!

Both factors together are like a recipe for actual disaster.
Miguel Palacio said…
Haha ...and now a blog post about anxious helicopter parents. ;-D

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