It’s an unfortunate reality that the relationship between police officers and people on the spectrum has historically been tense. Those with different abilities are more likely to be killed by officers, largely due to a lack of police awareness and training. In 2016 for example, we saw Kayden Clarke, a transgender man with Asperger’s, shot dead by police who were responding to suicide calls.
But encounters like this do not always end tragically, and a story that went viral in mid May 2016 is proof.
Officer Tim Purdy was called one day to check up on a high school student with ASD who had left campus and was possibly suicidal. In other words, he was tasked with handling a very delicate situation.
And the Charlotte-Mecklenburg cop did so admirably.
When he found the teen, he sat down on the asphalt parking lot and struck up a conversation with the student. His compassionate approach built a sense of trust in the young man, who was able to get help as a result. Purdy even made him laugh!
The photo of their touching encounter was posted to Facebook, where it went viral. Purdy has been lauded for his incredible response to a student who was trapped in a dark moment.
“There’s more to policing than making arrests and enforcing the law,” the Facebook post states. “Sometimes taking those extra little steps makes the biggest difference in someone’s life.”
As autism awareness increases and police training becomes more commonplace, we can hope to hear more stories like this. However, this story does point to another problem that exists in the autism community: suicide. When compared to the neurotypical population, a disproportionate amount of people on the spectrum are suicidal or commit suicide.