A while back I read an article about a family traveling with an autistic son who had a meltdown on a plane. The son was of a young age and the situation was contained.
What happens when these children get older? For some unfortunate ones, the following has happened:
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• In 2012, a 15-year-old autistic boy was shot dead by police after he reportedly attacked them in his family's basement with his face partially covered, wielding what his father said was a butter knife. Stephone Watts had Asperger syndrome, and the police were called because he did not get off his computer.
• On June 7, 14-year-old Alex Spourdalakis was allegedly brutally murdered by his mother and godmother. He was stabbed, twice in the chest, and two slits to the wrists. His crime was being autistic and his mother could not handle him.
While tragic, the abuse of children with autism is not uncommon. In cases where a child is nonverbal and combative, the risks of abuse are substantially high. It is essential that parents seek out help when feeling overwhelmed with caring for a child. There are many agencies that can provide respite care, counseling and other forms of support.
We need to make changes in society so that people with any form of autism are not subjected to this type of inhumane treatment. We must publicize these cases and make efforts to find solutions that avoid these terrible consequences. When they become adolescents and then adults, the grim reality of a society that has no housing, jobs or justice sets in.
I am thankful that as NAMI president I have a forum to speak out against the injustices happening to people with autism and mental illness in the criminal justice system.
Joseph M. Jason
National Alliance on Mental Illness, Barrington Area