STATEMENT FROM THE NATIONAL AUTISM ASSOCIATION
On Monday, Charles Kinsey, a behavioral therapist for those with disabilities, was shot and wounded by a police officer in North Miami after attempting to assist a young man with autism who had wandered from a group home.
In video footage provided by various media outlets, Mr. Kinsey is seen lying on the ground with his hands in the air while attempting to assist the individual.
We commend Mr. Kinsey, and all service providers, who work to protect individuals with autism and other disabilities each day. We wish Mr. Kinsey a swift recovery.
About the Individual’s Behaviors
In the video footage, the young man demonstrates several behaviors common in those with autism. These behaviors include:
Elopement: individuals with autism will elope, or leave their home, school, group home, or public setting to get to something of interest, or away from something bothersome. Because many individuals with autism have challenges in communication, a need or want that cannot be communicated may result in elopement, also known as wandering or running.
Echolalia: Echolalia is when a child or adult with autism (or other conditions) repeats sounds, words, or vocalizations. This may include a phrase, question, or verbal command that they have heard from another individual, movie, show or game. In the video, the individual can be heard shouting the same statement repeatedly. This is not an issue of defiance or belligerence, it is simply a behavior of echoing back what an individual has previously heard.
Stimming: The individual in the video can be seen rocking back and forth at times, and bringing the toy close to his face. This is called stimming, or self-stimulation. It can include rocking, flapping, jumping, hyperfocusing and other repetitious or unique movements.
In addition to these behaviors, many individuals with autism are unable to respond to verbal commands. They may also show unique interest in toys or childlike topics regardless of their age.
The Need For Training
At the National Autism Association, we advocate for those with autism at highest risk of injury or death.
Over the last several years, we have worked on federal legislation that will help provide police training. Such training would allow first responders to not only help prevent missing-person incidents, but train them on how to respond to — and interact with — persons with autism. The bill unanimously passed in the U.S. Senate last week, and now needs to pass in the House.
We call on our representatives in Congress to support H.R. 4919, Kevin & Avonte’s Law, and on our community members to contact their local representatives to support this critical legislation.
We also hope you’ll take a moment to share this video in partnership with our friends at Autism Society of Central Texas. The link also includes our downloadable toolkit for First Responders. The video and toolkit are completely free of charge.
Taking Steps Towards Protection & Progress
Over the last ten years, NAA has worked to create resources to help caregivers, first responders and teachers protect individuals with autism. These resources include:
- NAA’s Big Red Safety Box: Primary caregivers can apply for a free box here.
- NAA’s Big Red Safety Toolkit for First Responders can be downloaded for free here.
- NAA’s Big Red Safety Toolkit for Teachers: Teachers can apply for a free toolkit here.
Because each person with autism is different and has unique behaviors, we also strongly encourage caregivers and care providers to introduce their child, adult, or client with autism to members of law enforcement regardless of general training. A profile form for each individual can be downloaded and customized.
In addition to training and resources, we need understanding, compassion, and unity now more than ever. There are many wonderful service professionals across the U.S. who demonstrate this each day, such as Mr. Kinsey and Officer Tim Purdy. It is our hope that we recognize these professionals, follow their lead and work together to create a safe world for all individuals with disabilities and their caregivers.