“THANK YOU for handcuffing my son and transporting him in your police car.”
Yes, I made that statement. And yes, I sincerely meant EVERY word of it.
Mike was on his FIRST field trip with his class, to the Strawberry Festival. The Strawberry Festival is an annual event that celebrates the local strawberry harvest and other agricultural accomplishments. The event is held at our local fairgrounds and is a mixture of carnival rides, games, and agricultural displays.
The trouble started as soon as Mike entered the fairgrounds. He was greeted with a cart, selling the typical carnival junk and he wanted a bubble gun! Now, when I use the word, “wanted” what I mean is that he had a desire so intense, it consumed him. The teachers and aids on the field trip were able to redirected him away from the first cart. Unfortunately, they were greeted by cart on every corner.
His desire for the bubble gun turned to anxiety. The anxiety quickly turned to aggression and Mike was unwilling to remain with the group. The teachers were unable to calm and/or control him and decided that the safest option was to transport Mike back to school.
Deputy Barker, the school resource police officer, was dispatched and arrived on the scene within 15 minutes of receiving the call.
As I’ve previously noted, Mike is a VERY big young man. He is 6’2" and weighs approximately 230 pounds – he is incredibly strong and fast. He is physically intimidating. When Deputy Barker arrived, the staff was having a very difficult time keeping Mike with the group. People were starting to stare and the fairground’s ‘local’ police officers were observing at a distance.
It was then that I received the phone call. I had met Deputy Barker on a couple of occasions and found him to be a very compassionate man. Our school has a very large ESE population and he has worked cooperatively with the staff for several years.
When he called me, his words were direct and quick. He simply stated that Mike was melting down and bolting from the staff. He was going to remove Mike from the fairgrounds and transport him back to school. He wanted to accomplish this task without any involvement from the ‘local’ police officers who were observing him. He was informing me that he intended on using his handcuffs to gain control over Mike.
I immediately understood what he was saying – Mike’s size matters. He can be very intimidating to people who don’t know him. He feared that the ‘local’ police officers would attempt to assist him and possibly use unnecessary force. In that moment, I knew how much this man cared. I knew I could trust him.
With the assistance of the school staff, Deputy Barker handcuffed Mike. When Mike realized that he was the ‘bad guy’ and wasn’t going to get away with his behavior, he complied. He calmly walked with Deputy Barker to the police car without incident. He was placed in the backseat of the car, and transported back to school where he finished out the school day.
NO, I was not asked to pick him up.
NO, he was not suspended from school.
NO, he did not receive additional,
unnecessary disciplinary actions.
The school GETS it – they did not reinforce Mike’s behaviors and they did not reward him by sending him home.
Now, the thought of my autistic son being led away in handcuffs was not a pleasant one. It’s incredibly painful to know that your child is probably scared and that there’s nothing you can do about it – except trust. My faith in Deputy Barker mostly came from his composure during out brief phone call. He wasn’t frustrated, intimidated, angry, upset, or flustered by Mike’s behaviors. He also understood the bigger opportunity - to teach Mike a lesson, while ensuring his safety.
While the purpose of the field trip was to educate the students about agriculture, Mike learned a far greater lesson that day. He learned that there are unpleasant consequences to bad behavior. He learned that he must respect and listen to police officers.
I couldn’t be more thankful for the compassion and understanding that Deputy Barker showed that day. He made sure that Mike was uncomfortable, scared and SAFE. He made sure that the experience taught Mike a life lesson that he NEEDED to learn.
The next day, I visited Deputy Barker with Mike. We reviewed a social story about what had occurred. We reviewed the options and consequences with Mike. HE GOT IT – he has participated in the Strawberry Festival field trip EVERY year since, without incident.
Some lessons are best learned the hard way.