When society keeps people at arm's length, they end up in handcuffs

It's heartbreaking that a 12-year-old was detained for harmless behavior.

School officials of Conroe ISD in Texas summoned police officers to apprehend a 12-year-old autistic boy named David Sims. The incident ended with him being removed from school grounds in handcuffs and being held in a juvenile detention center. His crime? Playing pretend with an imaginary gun.

In the wake of the Parkland shooting in Florida, school districts around the country have been on high alert for threats of gun violence. This vigilance is fueled by increased awareness of gun-related incidents in schools and by the revelation that the carelessness of law enforcement in Broward County allowed the shooting to occur. No one wants to make that mistake again, and understandably so. Unfortunately, in Conroe ISD, this hyper-vigilance combined with prejudice against those with special needs led to the forcible apprehension of a young boy with autism who posed no threat to anyone.

Boys have been playing pretend gun games since guns were invented. They use sticks for swords, pinecones as grenades. Ever heard of Cops and Robbers? This behavior is to be expected from boys, but the seriousness of gun violence in schools has brought about a consensus that such games should be reserved for playtime away from school grounds. I was in kindergarten when the Columbine shooting happened. That week, our teacher gathered our class in a circle and explained to us that we couldn’t make threats of any kind – even for play – because of it. Even as kindergarteners, we understood. But none of us had autism.

A hallmark of autism is difficulty in making sense of social cues and the nuances of how certain actions make people feel. For many with autism (but not all, because the range of the spectrum is so vast), it’s impossible to comprehend the abstract notion that playing pretend guns could remind people of gun violence in schools. Daniel Sims didn’t know he was being threatening.

In his mom Amy’s words, “He doesn’t understand why, I don’t understand why. He didn’t attack anyone, he didn’t put his hands on anyone, he didn’t even threaten anyone.”

Further explaining the reason she feels they arrested her son, she said, “Because he’s disabled. They automatically think he’s got something mental, so he might go shoot up a school.”

Her reason likely isn’t far from the truth. In all areas of society, kids with special needs are marginalized and discriminated against. Speaking from personal experience, I saw this play out in my older brother’s life. My brother has a severe case of autism, almost totally nonverbal, and the discrimination against him started in preschool when we had to unexpectedly change schools because our previous school refused to teach him. Kids would see him get on the short bus and call him a retard. When we went to the pool during the summer months, parents would literally yell at him to stop splashing (and for those wondering, these parents don’t deserve the benefit of the doubt – it’s abundantly obvious my brother has autism). One silver lining to my brother having such a severe case of autism is that he was placed in special needs classes, away from the bullies. Those who are higher-functioning, like Sims, are placed in classes with the rest of the student body and are subject to tremendous abuse and discrimination. This usually ends with tears from the victim and laughs for the bullies, but in this case, it ended with Sims in handcuffs.

Now, I doubt Sims’ teachers and the local police are evil bullies out to abuse those with special needs. But I do think there’s a dramatic lack of understanding of how to deal with things like autism because our society holds those who have it at arm’s length. Perhaps because I can’t bring myself to believe the alternative, I think Sims’ teachers honestly didn’t understand that his brain hadn’t made the connection that gun play, even pretend, can make people feel unsafe. Their first reaction was to think, “If this is how he’s acting while playing pretend, imagine what would happen if he had a real gun.” I’ll also give law enforcement the benefit of the doubt. They want to protect and serve their community, but they need to understand that autism comes with sensory perception problems. Noises, movements and physical contact can be startling and jarring. In many cases, even parents don’t realize their child has sensory problems until later in adolescence, when these stimuli trigger sudden outbursts of aggression. Handcuffing this boy and removing him in front of his classmates was entirely too severe for his situation. But that’s the thing: people don’t know his situation.

For too long, the average American has written off having to deal with those with special needs. They think, “That’s for the parents to deal with, or the special needs teachers, or those day camps they go to. This doesn’t affect me.”

Actually, it does. According to Autism Speaks, the CDC found that 1 in 59 children has an autism spectrum disorder. In your lifetime, these people have been in your classes, bagged your groceries, screened your carry-on bag as you go through airport security or even worked in your offices. You have listened to music written by people on the autism spectrum. You’ve enjoyed their art. If our society continues to operate with a total lack of understanding for this significant population, they will bear a disproportionate brunt of the costs.

Comments
No. 1-8
HDA
HDA

If I were the parents, I would look into a lawsuit against both the school and police department. I certainly don't have all of the facts, but this seems like a violation of this kids civil rights. What exactly was the charge? The police can't arrest you unless there is probable cause for a crime having been committed. The courts really need to opine on these types of BS rules by schools. These types of rules seem to me to be a prima facie violations of students 1A rights (assuming that there is no reasonably deduced implicit or clear explicit threat). These anti-imaginary-gun restrictions have all of the hallmarks of a moral panic.

Also, this is Texas after all. Why isn't Greg Abbot calling over to those in charge and reaming them out a new one and threatening them with state CRIMINAL civil rights investigations? That would seem to me the be the biggest political home run that I could think of for Abbot.

BiggDoggie
BiggDoggie

I have 2 high-functioning Autistic kids in my class. They are part of the class, they're not that much different than any of the other Jr Highers I have - they're funny, they're the hardest workers in my classes, they are SO surprised when they're given awards for just about anything, even when they know they've earned them... Smart, talented (had to dig a bit & help them along, but wow). Their hearts are quite pure, innocent, but in their search for God (ours is a Christian School), they strive to confirm their love for God every chance they get. You aught to see these ladies worship! It'll touch your heart! Anyway, I'll take a classroom of "my" girls just about any day...

CMacchiato
CMacchiato

It's the second option - they don't wish to understand. Boys and girls are expected to be the same in order to be "equal" and in order for society to accept that gender doesn't matter. This is essential for the acceptance of more than two genders.

It's tragic because the differences between boys and girls will not go away because certain groups try to will them away, and the ones to suffer in the process of trying to cleanse them will be the kids.

Billie
Billie

Half the problems we have with boys in school today is that those in positions of authority have no understanding or don't wish to understand that boys are not girls. Be they autistic or otherwise boys need to get up and move around. To play hard and run their socks off. They can't sit for hours like girls and be expected not to rebel. It's not in their nature and we use to understand and except that. The greatest threat this country faces is not N.K. or the Middle East it's the socialist progressive and left wing control freaks.

Bdsconserv
Bdsconserv

This is heartbreaking. That poor kid and his parents must be traumatized and angry. I remember growing up in the 60s one of our favorite games was playing Combat in the neighborhood, a la Vic Morrow. And lots of us were girls.

Stories