Sunday, January 11, 2015


This week U.S. News and World Report published an article online entitled “Is the U.S. Prepared for a Growing Population of Adults with Autism?” with the subheading, “More than 50,000 individuals with autism transition into adulthood each year.” [To read this article, please click here.] Parents of adult children with autism can easily respond to that essentially rhetorical question with a definitive no. The article points out that the majority of the more than 1.5 million diagnosed with autism are currently younger than twenty-two years old, and an “autism tsunami” is predicted as more children with autism become adults and need services. Of course, these services are quite expensive, and the article focuses on the staggering costs for taking care of these adults with autism. While that problem certain merits attention, parents of adult children worry more about how safe our vulnerable sons and daughters will be when we are not around to protect them.

In previous blog entries, namely “Protecting Our Children” (September 14, 2014), “Autism and Law Enforcement: A Safety Crisis” (June 9, 2013), and “Autism and Wandering: A Safety Crisis” (May 26, 2013), I have expressed my concerns about how bullies, wandering to unsafe places, and untrained police officers can pose threats to children and adults with autism, citing incidents where those with autism have been badly hurt and even killed. These news stories remind parents that we must be especially vigilant to guard our children with autism from those dangers, including those who may legitimately perceive them as threats. Because of our children’s impaired social skills, limited language, and tendency to wander, they may unknowingly find themselves in dangerous situations.

Around midnight on Christmas Eve in Greenville, South Carolina, police officers arrested a thirty-four-year-old man with autism walking on the sidewalk after he didn’t cooperate with their questioning. [To read this news report, please click here.] With his limited language skills, he couldn’t answer their questions and didn’t respond to their requests. His impaired social skills prevented him from behaving appropriately, and fear likely caused him to run away from the officers, who shocked him with a Taser and handcuffed him. Certainly, his noncompliant behavior made him seem suspicious and perhaps even threatening. However, after discovering that he has autism, charges were dropped against him. Unfortunately, he will carry that memory of an upsetting experience with the law, but this incident has demonstrated the need for police officers to have training in dealing with people with autism.

This week in Austin, Texas, a young man with autism became upset and ran away from his group home early in the morning. [To read this news report, please click here.] Agitated, he began pounding on doors of neighborhood homes. As he attempted to enter a home, the homeowner shot and killed him, fearing for the safety of his family. While this situation is terribly upsetting for everyone involved, many parents of adult children with autism understand how this could happen. When our fully-grown children become upset, their behavior can become so erratic that anyone would see them as threatening. Sadly, this young man with autism lost his life, and the homeowner protecting his family will have to live with this tragedy the rest of his life.

As these recent news reports demonstrate, the world is a dangerous place for people with autism who cannot communicate well and whose impaired social skills affect their behavior negatively. While parents do everything we can to protect our children and keep them safe, they may find themselves in danger. When I read essays written by parents of young children with autism who celebrate the disability and say that they wouldn’t change a thing about their child and that autism is part of their personality, I shake my head. While we love our children with autism unconditionally, we want their lives to be better and safer, but autism makes them vulnerable to dangers we can’t always keep at bay. Autism is no more a part of their personality than cancer or diabetes or any lifelong affliction that takes away from our children’s lives. Consequently, I continue to pray for a cure for autism so that my child and those like him can live life to fullest, participating in the world instead of being a misunderstood outsider. In the meantime, I also pray that God keeps Alex safe until that healing can occur and that He will guide and watch over him when we cannot.

“See, I am sending an angel before you to protect you on your journey and lead you safely to the place I have prepared for you.” Exodus 23:20

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