Friday, September 27, 2013

Lockup Raw: Strawberry Festival

“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. 


  1. That's a pretty cool story, Hippie. I like it.

  2. I started reading this post while on lunch at work, but found the words becoming blurry, (due to the tears finding their way into my eyes.) and had to stop.
    I finished reading it just now, knowing what I was getting myself into this time.
    The way Deputy Barker handled the situation gives me immense hope! And it sounds like Mike was able to learn and grow from the experience as well.
    Valuable lessons all around.
    Thank you for sharing this ultimately, very positive and powerful story of compassion.

    1. Thank you JoLynn! I've NEVER written about my autism experiences before - it has been a very rewarding experience. I'm so thankful that our life can comfort and educate others. THANK YOU for sharing and participating. :-)

    2. It seems, by your writing, that you live very much in the moment of those experiences. Which is an amazing quality! My youngest son who has autism, is 18, and I have spent years teaching myself to take a step back when he has moments similar to the experience Mike had with the bubble gun. (Luke's obsession has always been DVD's.)
      I am glad to have found your FB page and through that, this blog! Your's and others like it, give me different and new perspectives with which to view the world of autism and the many challenges and rewards that come with it! :)

      PS- I 'like' your page on FB, but discovered an old, abandoned blog I had on what I think used to be blogspot. So the name has changed, but apparently an old dog can be taught new tricks, because I figured it out! And I decided to comment here rather than there because there is something more personal about the blog-o-shere.
      But FB is great too, because it hits a wider 'audience' and anywhere, any way, we can spread awareness and understanding is putting positive energy into the world. :)

    3. JoLynn - I work HARD on living in the moment! I participate in a 'closed' autism blogger group and I feel badly, but I can't bring myself to read the other blogs. It's too painful to relive some of the experiences from the past. For now, the therapy days are over, he's in a great school, and he's a happy kid. I recognize that there will be difficult challenges in his future - I just want to enjoy the moment.

      While I recognize the challenges ahead, I honestly don't worry about MY kid. I'm a fighter and there isn't anything that I haven't been able to secure for him. My concern is for the MANY disabled people living in group homes that don't have family involvement. I'm hoping to use the page to promote awareness and compassion for them. Their fate effects the fate of OUR children.

      Thank you again for participating and sharing! AH

  3. What a great story you shared. If only more educators, law enforcement, and just folks in general weren't so quick to judge, and took a minute to consider certain situations, the world would be so much easier for so many.

    How wonderful that Mike was able to learn and comprehend that there are consequences for his actions. What an amazing young man you've raised. Keep sharing.

    1. Thanks Annemarie! My post has encouraged a mom to contact her local law enforcement agency to develop a training program. It's wonderful to be part of the solutions! :-)

      (BTW - I hope you cruise with us!)