My wife and I had the opportunity to attend a screening for a new documentary titled, “Invisible Disabilities: The Problems of Perception,” produced by Jenny Mackenzie that features, among others. Dr. Temple Grandin. I didn’t know much about the film so I was a little surprised to see a handful of law enforcement officers mingling with the guests who were down at center stage. I’m glad we got their early since it was a standing room only event! Great turnout!
Background: There was an incident in our city where two special needs individuals were with their caregiver and were going to a public restroom. A police officer saw them, mistook it for criminal behavior, and a ‘use of force’ incident unfortunately happened.
What happened next truly shows you the character of these individuals and this city. On hearing about the incident, the Chief of Police, Chief Burbank obviously met with the officer involved, but he also met with the individuals and families of the autistic individuals. Instead of both ‘sides’ viewing themselves as being on opposing sides in the matter, they decided to fix the problem and put their emotions into a project that would, hopefully, help avoid future situations.
Thus, the idea and team for the documentary was formed. The viewing was followed by a panel that included Dr. Temple Grandin and Chief Burbank.
I was very impressed with Chief Burbank. He seemed like a very humble and intuitive individual, not what my first impression of a police chief would be (pictured a loud Type A personality) – my bad. He discussed how this incident and documentary have led him to share the incident and training resources with not only his department, but 70 of the largest police forces in Canada / US. That’s impressive!
This was my first experience seeing Dr. Grandin and I was very impressed by her resourcefulness and entire presence. It was easy to understand how she is a great spokesperson and representative of the ASD Community.
I think the documentary will be a good training tool for groups (law enforcement, educators, public servants, etc) that deal frequently with a wide range of people. However, I was surprised by a few things. First, I’ve watched a number of autistic videos and honestly, have felt more connection and emotion in most of those videos versus this documentary. While I do feel that this documentary will serve a great purpose, I was surprised, especially since our emotions are close to the surface when it comes to autism, that my wife and I had no emotional response to the documentary.
Second, maybe it’s just because I have daily encounters with people on the spectrum, but I think that if you spent a minute with all three individuals featured in the movie, most people would be able to tell that they have a special need. I think when I see people like Clay Marzo or some of the ASD adults who speak on autism panels that I’ve been too, these individuals could almost get by with nobody knowing they are on the spectrum. . . . it would’ve been interesting to have an interview from someone who, on most days, nobody would consider has special needs. While Dr. Grandin fits that description she was introduced as an expert in the documentary.
I’m not devaluing the documentary with that last remark but more, sharing my alarm that the police officer in this incident couldn’t recognize that these people with arms flapping or other physical challenges, were not criminals but individuals that, more than anything, needed The Law’s help and protection. That shocked me . . . . but then again, my wife and I have been dealing with this for years and I need to realize that others haven’t had the experience we had . . . including the office in the incident.
Chief Burbank mentioned a number of times that law enforcement needs to provide ‘equal protection’ to ALL individuals and how this instance helped him realize that there was further training and resources needed to help police deal with special needs individuals. It’s imperative to help others understand that physical contact or stress situations cause more of these ‘symptoms’ to come out and they should never mistake those for an aggressive individual. If an individual needs more time to process something and someone is yelling at them, it’s just a vicious cycle that escalates into a situation like the one these individuals encountered.
Glad I got to see the documentary and hope that it does well and serves it’s intended purpose. Great to see how a group of individuals turned a very high stress and emotional confrontation into an avenue of change . . . . . remarkable! Check out our claim to fame – my wife and kids on a local news broadcast on autism.