Sunday, September 21, 2014

Protecting Our Children

Protecting our children proves one of the most important and difficult challenges all parents face. When those children remain childlike even into adulthood, as many children with autism do, that obligation continues and often becomes even more difficult. Three recent news stories sadly reveal how vigilant autism parents must be in protecting their older children who cannot safely navigate society on their own.

This week, in a town near where I live, a sixteen-year-old boy and a twenty-year-old man were taken into custody for attacking a seventeen-year-old boy with autism, hitting him in the face and back of the head. Apparently someone videotaped this incident, and police were able to view this video. The victim told police that he didn’t understand why the two young men hit him, and his parents reported that he is autistic and non-confrontational. According to the twenty-year-old attacker, they were “just playing” and “didn’t hit [the victim] hard.” [To read this news report, please click here.]The flimsy excuses and lack of remorse offered by these bullies who preyed upon a disabled teenager is disturbing. Moreover, parents of older children with autism need to be aware of potential dangers, including cruel people who would victimize our children for fun, because our children can be oblivious to situations where they could be harmed.

In a similar recent incident, a fifteen-year-old boy with autism was the victim of a so-called prank orchestrated by his peers in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Telling him that he was participating in the widely known ALS ice-bucket challenge, they instead dumped a bucket of urine and tobacco on his head and posted a video of this disgusting act online. After his parents saw this video, they contacted police, who investigated the matter, which gained national attention and outrage. Notably, comedian Drew Carey offered a $10,000 reward for information leading to the identification of those involved in perpetrating this cruel trick. After detectives investigated the case, they identified five teenagers, aged 14-17, who were involved. Prosecutors are currently reviewing the case to determine what charges may be filed. [To read an account of this incident, please click here.] Claiming that this was just a joke, these teenagers also seem to lack an understanding of how wrong it is to victimize a teenager with autism and then post the incident online for others to see. Again, parents of teenagers with autism must know who their children’s "friends" are and protect them from those who would humiliate and harm them.

Besides protecting our children from peers who would harm teens and young adults with autism for their own cruel entertainment, autism parents must also be vigilant against a surprising source of potential danger to our children. This week in Flemington, New Jersey, twenty-two-year-old Tyler Loftus, who has autism, bipolar disorder, and the mental capacity of a five-year-old, was arraigned in court for making “terroristic threats” and  for “unlawful possession of a weapon,” a three-inch pocket knife. Instead of teenagers who would get pleasure at the expense of a person with autism, Tyler Loftus is the victim of a failed system that should be protecting him.

After spending seven years at Woods School in Pennsylvania, where his developmental disability and mental health needs were addressed successfully, the Return Home New Jersey program forced him to obtain services in New Jersey, placing him in a group home, where his severe needs were not met, despite his mother strongly advocating for him. According to her, the past year and a half, he has had difficulties with the clients and staff at the group home because his mental health needs have been ignored, which leads to nearly daily 911 calls and trips to the local emergency room for assessment. Since the hospital cannot treat him appropriately, they return him to the group home. After allegedly threatening his roommate, he was arrested and placed in jail; this week he was arraigned and faces a court date next month regarding the criminal charges, which he clearly does not understand. [To read an account of this situation, please click here.] Incarcerating this young man with autism who clearly needs psychiatric care strikes me as not only heartbreaking but also as cruel and unusual punishment, and I pray that he gets the help he truly needs.

From our own frustrating and upsetting experience of trying to get help for Alex nearly three years ago, I know how limited resources are when it comes to helping adults with autism. Certainly, young men with autism cannot be allowed to be threats to society, but jail is not the answer to this serious problem. The lack of facilities that know how to treat behavioral and mental health issues related to adult autism is appalling and must be addressed. In the case of Tyler Loftus, he was receiving the proper care he needed, but the state of New Jersey took that support away from him because it was not being provided within their state. As parents of adults with autism, we must make others aware of the injustice our children can face and continue to protect them from those who will do them harm, whether knowingly or unknowingly. Our precious children deserve much better.

“The Lord says, ‘I will rescue those who love Me. I will protect those who trust in My name.’” Psalm 91:14


K. C. Wells said...

Horrible. Just horrible. My heart aches for those boys.

Pam Byrne said...

Isn't it awful, K.C.? I always worry what will happen to Alex when I'm not around to protect him, but even when parents are around (as in these examples), terrible things can happen. I always pray that God will keep Alex safe.