23 Sep

Last week an autistic boy was handcuffed after allegedly getting out of his seat harness and biting several people on the school bus. You can read the full story here.

The mom says “[they] should have treated my son differently. They should know how to handle autistic kids.”

The school spokesperson says the bus driver and aide “followed protocol” by calling police when they weren’t able to calm the child down.


I may catch some flack for what I’m about to say…but I’m going to say it….

Whether or not a person has autism has no bearing on the acceptability of aggression or violent behavior. None.

Might there be an alternative to using handcuffs? I don’t know. Maybe… I have no idea. But the point of putting someone in handcuffs is to reduce the risk of the person hurting themselves or others. In this case, it was not a punitive response. It was a safety response. And to expect the community to “know how to handle autistic kids” is preposterous. I get that in this case, the bus driver and aide probably have had training in dealing with autism. But I’ve had lots of training, too. And sometimes children still get aggressive! So expecting people at large to know what to do in these cases is outrageous. As much as I’d love a world where people had tons of knowledge and experience and understanding of autism…they don’t; I can’t expect them to. And I certainly, can’t and won’t, expect the world to pardon violent or harmful behavior because a person is autistic. Yes, it’s important to spread awareness; I fully support that cause! But the reality is that the world does not revolve around autism. I’d be really curious to know what this mom suggests the people involved should have done instead. In my coursework training to become a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA) we were taught that if a person’s behavior endangers themselves or others and they are not able to be calmed or controlled, we should call the police. Now, whatever led up to the aggression in this case…maybe the staff could have done those things differently. Or maybe they did everything exactly right! Who knows! But regardless of the antecedent…if the response is aggression that threatens other people’s safety, stopping the behavior and protecting people is really all that matters in that moment.

And, ultimately, this story reminds me why working on these behaviors while children are young (and small) is SO, SO, SO important. I am in NO way suggesting the mom in this article isn’t doing what she can to manage her son’s behaviors, or that parents of aggressive autistic children are at failing to do something. My own brother can become aggressive sometimes. And one of my biggest concerns has always been how people will handle these behaviors when he gets bigger. He will probably outgrow my mom in less than 5 years. So it’s imperitive to get it under control now. And I really encourage other parents to look ahead when dealing with aggressive behaviors. If it’s hard now, it will be exponentially harder down the road. Please don’t bury your head in the sand. I know it’s painful. I know it’s hard. I know it’s draining. I know it’s scary. And, I know it seems easier to just give in sometimes to make it stop. But not addressing it now will make your own life (and theirs) so much more difficult down the road. I implore you to hold the long-term picture in your head at all times. Sooner than we know, autistic kids will be autistic teens, and autistic adults. And the community around us will have even less tolerance for unsafe behavior. So the best thing people can do in the here and now, is never lose sight of the bigger picture. Our vision for the future can be our compass for the present.

One Response to “Handcuffs”

  1. Adam September 24, 2012 at 1:48 pm #

    You make so much sense. You should write a book!

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