Autism and the 911 call

April Autism

When the phone rang, and my son shouted “Mommmmmyyyyy! It’s 911 on the phone!” I knew I was about to have an interesting night.

I walked to the bedroom where I discovered my son and daughter..my son holding the receiver, chatting with someone on the line. I took the phone gently from him and put it to my ear..Here’s a quick excerpt on what went down.

” Hello????”

“Hello ma’am, this is 911. Did you know that your son just called us and told us there is a fire in your house?” “Is there a fire in your house?”

“Oh my god!” I respond..horrified that T actually called 911 (and then to my grievous error I kind of chuckle as it dons on me)  “I’m so sorry…My son is autistic and has been working on a community helper lesson topic at school..I am guessing he thought that by calling 911 he would be able to talk directly to a police officer”…911 lady proceeds to tear a strip off me..lecturing about the irresponsibility of letting my son have access to the phone and not teaching him how important it is to only call 911 when there is an emergency…

Fair enough…

After 10 min…OK..I got it lady.

It was unintentional and T was super pleased with himself that he had figured out how to talk to the police (he had gone to a fire department with his dad a couple of days before and had interviewed a firefighter, while standing outside the door to the hall JUST in case the alarm sounded- THAT’S a whole ‘nother blog post!)

My husband was out for the night so this “lesson” was all me. I hung up the phone and proceeded to ask the kids to sit down for a family meeting. I explained that 911 should only ever be called if there is a fire in the house or if mommy or daddy are lying on the floor not answering if you asked them a question. We talked about the importance of not taking away a police or firefighter who could be helping someone who was really in trouble. I had felt like some of my words had gotten through and we were good on the road to laughing about this later.

I was feeling good about our talk when I heard the knock and doorbell at the door. I knew instantly that there were police at our door. T opened the door and was THRILLED to see the police at our door.

Me- Not so much. The police came in and indicated that they were here to talk to T about calling 911. T (at first excited) now had eyes brimming with tears…completely distraught that the police officers were upset with him. They were gruff (and hey…I get it, they are trying to teach him a lesson) but they got stuck on him not looking at them in the eyes. Like getting gruffer, mad and frustrated… I get so frustrated that I explain that he’s autistic and eye contact is one of the most challenging actions for T to commit to. They stumble and then can’t quite recover. As often happens, the police reacted the same as many people do when they hear Autism….awkwardly. As a parent, I am sad to say I am getting more used to that reaction than I would like.

The irony? At the end of the conversation, T puts his hand out and says “We’re pals right?” and totally disarms the officers, his usual endearing quality winning them over in a millisecond.

As we are heading into Autism Awareness Month, I can’t help think of how often people don’t know how to react to the word Autism (myself included at times). Friends have asked how to explain to their kids, adults have asked what exactly what that means…

I look forward to the day we will have the answers to explain…

April 2 is Light It Up Blue to help raise awareness for World Autism Day. Do your best to spread the word and light it up blue tomorrow. 

Light blue

One thought on “Autism and the 911 call

  1. Jenn, I think you are being very kind here. 🙂 This story infuriates me. The Accessibillity for Ontarions with Disabilities Act Customer Service Standard is now THE LAW.

    This law requires anyone who works with the public to receive training on appropriate ways to serve people with disabilities.

    As a producer I created and facilitated this training for the 600 staff and volunteers of Nuit Blanche to make sure that they had the tools to serve and speak with people with varying disabilities respectfully.

    Surely the police and 911 have received this training, which would have covered the basics of autism, including avoiding touch and eye contact.

    This incident never should have happened. These officers and the 911 operator you spoke to clearly need some Customer Service Standard training.

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