Changing standards for autism care

Subject: Changing standards for autism care
From: Megan Wheaton
Date: 25 Apr 2023

Dear Michigan Commision on Law Enforcement Standards and LEA,

I am writing to you today to seek your help in changing the guidelines for officers and educational staff on their level of training and education regarding individuals with intellectual disorders. Officers and teachers are not being provided with adequate education or training to be working hands on with individuals who suffer from an intellectual disorder. Too many individuals have been harmed, whether mentally or physically, in the hands of the people who were supposed to help and protect them.

Officers have restrained these individuals, beaten them and have even killed them. The individuals ``unwillingness to follow instructions was taken as resisting and not respecting authority. As a result, the young adult was killed by officers. Had these officers been provided with appropriate education and training they could have handled this situation a different way. Officers were questioned on how educated they were regarding autism. Many officers said they were confident in their knowledge, however, scored very low on the written test that was given to them.

Then, you have teachers who are restraining children and leaving them alone in a room where they are crying out for help and no one is listening. If teachers were given higher education on behavioral therapy and how to properly address specific behaviors these horrific situations could have been avoided. Many children who are autistic have a sensory disorder, therefore, grabbing them can lead to an increase in the undesired behaviors. Teachers need to have hands-on experience working with children who are autistic and have behavioral concerns, whether this is shadowing with a board-certified behavioral analyst, or some sort of therapist who is specially trained in behaviors. A young boy was restrained in a chair by his teacher and left in a dark closet for an unknown amount of time, and when investigated it was learned that the teacher had not even received training on restraining as she was out sick that day. She was still, however, placed back in her classroom with restraining devices, children who have behavioral issues, but with zero training.

These types of events are disgusting and unacceptable. We need to do better for those suffering from an intellectual disability. I can’t imagine my child being strapped to a chair, placed in a dark closet alone and crying for help for possibly hours. I could not imagine receiving a phone call that your young adult child died in an event with an officer due to misunderstanding. Now, I know that this causes an increase in funding, however, I truly believe that our communities would be supportive of raising money to provide this educational experience for officers and teachers. A change needs to happen, and it has to start somewhere. I want to be the change. I want to make life better for these specific individuals and help educate people on their function and reason. Do you?

Megan Wheaton