I have a wonderful friend that I am proud to say is different than any other friend. He is the most honest person I know and isn’t afraid to give his unscripted opinion when asked. Sometimes when he is nervous, he will wring his hands in a motion similar to hand washing. There are some that can tell he is a bit different than most because of his vocalization delivery. His attention to detail is nearly to perfection which I admire. However, there are occasions when planned events can quickly deteriorate because something has changed or is no longer readily available. My friend has Aspergers, and to me, he is undeniably one of the best, and most honest friend anyone can have.
I never made an attempt to pick up and read a book about Autism or other spectrum-related issues. I think my reasoning for this is because becoming immersed in friendships or relationships sometimes cannot be found in pages. Instead, the beginning stages are listening and picking up on visual and verbal cues. If I ask, “what is wrong,” I will most certainly receive a critical and authentic response. That response shouldn’t be interpreted as my fault or suddenly changing my ways to accommodate another. Instead, it is a learning process, and once he understands my traits, habits, language, and cues, then it is assimilated as only identifiable to me. To me, that is indeed a special gift to have and receive. To have another accommodate to your habits is perhaps the best gift anyone can get.
A few nights ago my friend was pulled by police for “acting suspicious” while driving. I received a cell phone call in the middle of the night on his speakerphone. He was in a panic because of the flashing strobe lights and spotlight directed at his car causing vision inabilities. I tried to keep him calm as I could hear the officer in the background that kept interrupting his replies. The one thing I could overhear by cell phone was the officer saying, “you gave turn signals at every intersection and was driving under the posted speed limit. Have you been drinking?” That is when I heard the worst reply, “yes. I had soda at a friends house.” The officers’ tone changed and sounded unamused followed immediately with, “step out of the car.” This is when I could no longer hear anything because he was experiencing a field sobriety test for possible driving while impaired. I felt so powerless because I knew he was honest, but the officer was using an opportunity to seek another agenda without probing to understand autism spectrums or other underlying issues.
Later I began to investigate how law enforcement could be better educated with regards to autism or other mental health issues. I learned that some states allow identifiers on driver license such as medical conditions to include autism spectrums. I can see the benefit of implementing a such as program, but I have some reservations. What if that volunteered information becomes a weapon for further discrimination, including employment, housing, and medical care? Or better yet, what if the police or first responders disregard the information citing other policies. Arent we becoming a bit more “registry minded” thinking that alone will solve our problems? Another issue is that registries and volunteered information don’t educate the public or police. Sometimes it creates additional stigmas that everyone listed has mental health issues and shouldn’t be driving or allowed a license. That is the perception I gathered while doing some investigating.
As for his police encounter, he ended up being surrounded by other officers to witness a field sobriety test. He was exceptionally nervous because the officers created a crowd feeling around him. The lights, strobes, and random loud police radios blaring from vehicle speakers jolted his every move. His experience, according to his own words, “was traumatic and overwhelming”. His hands would wring in a motion of cleansing as if he was reliving the experience all over again. Today he doesn’t want to drive because he relives the wording etched in his memory, “I followed the law and was told that I was driving too well.” That was all I needed to hear and understand how others seize opportunities to intimidate others with the power of a badge – even when there are no conditions to warrant such a stop. He was eventually let go, but the fear and heart elevations raised red flags because his eye pupils were dilated from being in fear – which officers wanted to arrest because of suspicion of drug use. During a search of the car for drugs, officers disconnected his cell phone, which was a reason I couldn’t hear anything further.
Upon reflection of that particular situation, I could almost feel the helplessness he felt combined with the anxieties and overstimulated effects of lights, noise, and intimidation. For that one split moment, I could somewhat understand the life of autism spectrums in that particular moment. I don’t claim to be a credible person in the field of mental health. However, it alerts me towards better advocacy that sometimes those of power take for granted to exploit to gain control. Such abuse of circumstances frustrates and annoy me. It makes me wonder how many others with PTSD, autism spectrums, depression, or other mental health issues are being criminally charged or erroneously imprisoned because of “convenience” for those investigating? I suspect a study will determine that America’s prisons are filled with more mental health-related issues than actual criminals. It’s tough for someone with an autism-related issue to look towards the respect of those wearing uniforms and badges as once admired individuals only to have the tables turned against them for being honest by answering constructive yes or no questions.
Nevertheless, I still have a wonderful friend, that happens to have Aspergers.