Families in the Ottawa area have an unusual option when it comes to helping their autistic children relate to police: they can register their children with the police as part of a database that gives cops some insight into a child’s condition before the interaction starts.
This has some clear and basic advantages: the police know the child may not be able to respond to verbal cues, and may be easily triggered by the noise and light of sirens.
Families who register provide not only a photo and some basic biographical information like name and age, but also information about a child’s preferences and quirks. In one example, the family had let police know that their son loved hockey, and that information was used to defuse a potentially violent outburst.
Families see a variety of benefits to the system. Among them, they hope police will be able to find children more easily when they wander, a problem some autistic children have. The Globe and Mail writes:
Some family members sign up those in their care in the hope that if they wander from home and go missing they will be found more quickly, because police have a photo as well as information about their favourite places. In Ottawa, about 300 people are signed up, and organizers are considering expanding the registry to include people with other non-verbal conditions.
This sounds like an incredibly useful system for families with autistic children. It gives police important tools to work with those on the autism spectrum rather than against them.
Does it respect the privacy of autistic individuals, though? Parents are choosing to give their children’s sensitive medical information to the police to keep, and trusting it will be used only for good. What if the state winds up using that information to treat these children as suspects in crimes when they grow older, or to intervene in their care?
I like the idea of the database, and it’s advantages are obvious. I’d want to learn a whole lot more about how it safeguards privacy before signing a child up for it, though.
On the other hand, I don’t have a child on the autism spectrum. About 300 people are registered in the Ottawa database. That’s a lot of people who do see it as a valuable tool in helping them manage their child’s needs.
Do you have a child on the autism spectrum? Would you consider registering your kid with a law enforcement database?
Photo: 2010 Legal Observers