Children with disabilities and special needs are at greater risk of being arrested than other children. School resource officers (SROs) and other law enforcement officers may not understand that their behavior is related to their condition.
One 10-year-old special education student with autism was arrested in his school and required to spend the night behind bars because he had reportedly scratched and kicked a school aide who was assigned to assist him. Kids with autism often have issues with being touched and may react to physical contact in what might be considered a violent manner.
The number of SROs in American schools has increased significantly in recent years. They can help teachers control unruly and violent kids. However, they also have the authority to arrest them -- even for minor offenses. Often, these arrests involve kids with disabilities.
According to the U.S. Department of Education, 12 percent of kids in schools have disabilities, but they account for a quarter of school arrests. Some are dealt with through the juvenile justice system, while others are charged and tried as adults.
In New York and some other large cities, public schools have more security guards and SROs than social workers and counselors. However, too often, SROs lack the necessary training to deal with any kids, let alone those with special needs.
The chances of being arrested outside of school are also greater for young people with autism. Research has shown that 20 percent of young people with autism are stopped by police before they reach 21.
Police stops are more likely to go bad when the person being detained and questioned has autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
One New York child development expert says, "A simple traffic stop can have tragic consequences for an individual with ASD. If a police officer does not recognize that the driver has autism, then they may misinterpret the failure to make eye contact, answer questions appropriately, or follow simple commands." The officer "may become more wary and feel defied or threatened -- which could then lead to escalation of the situation…."
If your child has been arrested for actions or behavior related to their autism or other disability, it's essential that the court understands how their condition impacts the way they relate to others. An experienced criminal defense attorney can help ensure that their rights are protected.