(Inside: Autistic people should not have to carry ID to stay safe… Police brutality against autistics needs a better solution than autism ID cards.)
Another day, another story.
Another autistic person getting hurt by people who don’t understand autism.
Whether it’s the call to “end autism” from Jenny McCarthy or a news story about a family that abused their autistic child… There’s always something.
But recently, there have been more and more stories of autistic victims of police brutality.
There have been a few ideas thrown around for how to keep autistic people safe during police interactions.
One of those, which Autism Speaks has suggested, is a card identifying autistic individuals that we could keep in our wallets.
(Image description: Person handcuffed behind their back in front of a white background. Text in teal and coral over a white overlay reads: autistic people should be safe from police without autism ID cards)
Autistic People Should NOT Have to Carry ID to Stay Safe
Besides the fact that autistic people shouldn’t have to disclose our personal medical history to stay safe from being attacked, a wallet ID card is incredibly dangerous for autistic people.
The fact is: autistic people should not have to carry ID to stay safe during police interactions.
But first… If you aren’t familiar with the current climate, let’s dig in a bit to why we need a solution in the first place.
Police Brutality toward Autistic People
There have been many stories about police attacking autistic people for being… well, autistic.
From a boy who was stimming with a string, to an autistic adult who was playing with a toy truck, autistic people exhibit behaviors that others perceive as strange.
Police respond to these behaviors, often in violent and aggressive ways.
In some cases, this will set off the autistic person to either meltdown or shut down.
The end results aren’t good for anyone involved.
Now, police aren’t purposely harming autistic people… They simply aren’t educated on the different behaviors autistic people may have.
They see a teenager stimming with a string and think: drugs.
They see a man sitting in the street with something in his hands and think: gun.
They see a person who isn’t responding to verbal commands and think: obstinate.
It seems clear to me that educating the police force about autism and other disabilities is the answer… But there’s been another solution thrown around…
The Proposed Solution: Autism ID’s
Apparently, instead of teaching police about autism and other disabilities, giving them training on how to de-escalate situations instead of escalating them to violence, or anything like that… We should make autistic people carry ID cards that disclose our autism.
Basically, there are cards that say “I’m autistic, I may not respond to verbal commands” etc.
And autistic people should carry these cards with us everywhere so that we aren’t attacked by the police for just living our everyday lives.
But this “solution” that Autism Speaks and several police forces across the country are suggesting isn’t a solution at all…
5 Reasons Autism ID Cards are NOT the Solution to Police Brutality
(Image description: Person handcuffed behind their back in front of a white background. Text in teal and coral over a white overlay reads: autism ID cards aren’t safe police need a better solution)
#1 Autistic People are Not Required to Disclose Our Diagnosis
An autism diagnosis is a personal thing for many people.
While many of us openly share our diagnosis, we are not required to.
No person should have to disclose their medical details to a stranger, especially a stranger in a position of power.
Beyond that, we shouldn’t have to disclose a disability to be treated like humans and stay safe.
We should have a reasonable expectation that police will not attack us without cause.
#2 This Puts the Responsibility on the Autistic Person
The solution proposed puts the entire responsibility on the autistic person to protect themselves from police.
But why is that our responsibility?
Should the police hold no responsibility for attacking autistic people?
Should they hold no responsibility for educating themselves on an extremely common neurology?
Again it comes back to this: Why do we have to carry a specific card in order to get safe treatment from the police?
#3 What Happens When Autistic People Don’t Have These Cards?
The other issue with putting the responsibility on autistic people with these autism ID cards is… What happens when autistic people don’t have these cards?
Most of the areas promoting these cards are calling them voluntary… But what happens when someone chooses not to carry one and is attacked?
How long until “they should have had ID” is an excuse for violence?
And it isn’t even just people who choose not to carry them…
Many autistic people struggle with executive functioning. A card is just another thing for them to remember to bring with them, and it may often go forgotten.
To remember it, most autistic people will keep it in their wallet, which leads me to problems 4 & 5…
#4 An Autistic Person in Distress May Not be Able to Access Their Card
If an autistic person is doing nothing wrong and minding their own business, stimming away… and a police officer comes at them, it can set off a meltdown or shut down.
Autistic people struggle with communication, so they may not be able to answer the police officer’s questions or follow their commands.
In this panicked, overwhelmed state, we’re expecting autistic people to have the control to remember they have an autism ID card, remember where they put it, access that card, and hand it to the police officer?
If you’re the parent of an autistic child, please think about their last meltdown.
Could they have calmly done what I listed above during that meltdown?
I don’t think so.
And honestly, even if they could follow those steps… This process may still put them in danger… Which brings me to problem #5…
#5 Autism ID’s Could Get Autistic People Killed
Imagine the scenario fully:
An autistic person is stimming, a police officer sees this as “erratic behavior”.
Police officer commands autistic person to stop, autistic person doesn’t stop.
Police officer starts shouting, autistic person shuts down completely.
Autistic person somehow remembers they have this autism card that they’re supposed to show the officer.
Autistic person reaches for their pocket.
Anyone who’s seen the news in the last few years should be able to guess how this ends…
When you’re in a high-stress confrontation with the police, the LAST thing we should teach our autistic kids (or autistic adults) to do is REACH for anything.
That police officer will likely think they’re reaching for a weapon, and it can have deadly consequences.
Please, please do not support these autism ID cards.
Please don’t teach your child to reach for anything during an interaction with police.
Please advocate for your local police force to get education and training on autism and other disabilities.
Because autistic people should not have to carry ID to be safe.
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