Autistic youth’s mother urges greater understanding of people with special needs

The mother of an autistic youth has appealed for greater understanding of people with special needs, after strangers called the cops “mindlessly in fear” over her son’s behaviour at Bishan Park over the weekend.

Writer Choo Kah Ying’s account on Facebook of her son’s brush with the authorities — resulting in him being “handcuffed unjustifiably” and detained in a police car — went viral, with more than 2,200 shares on social media.

In a lengthy post, Ms Choo, who is in her 40s, shared that she had brought her son Sebastien to Bishan Park to skate on Saturday morning.

Along the way, the 19-year-old ran to a truck to open and close its doors.

“This is one of the several obsessions Sebastien engages in, which has been difficult for me to stop, without incurring an outburst and attack on me. Though I warn him that people could call the police, it has not had a great deterrent effect and it seems to have gotten worse (last) week,” said Ms Choo.

The workers nearby did not appear to mind, and one of them smiled “reassuringly” and signalled to her that he was aware her son was intellectually handicapped.

But two hours later, her son had not returned from skating around the park. It was then that Ms Choo received a call from the police. According to Ms Choo, a couple had seen him touching car door handles at a carpark and called the police.

When the police approached, Sebastien had tried to avoid them, prompting the officers to grab him without realising that he was autistic. He responded “aggressively” in turn, and they handcuffed him and put him in the police car.

“Given the fact that Sebastien had not committed any crime, the police’s decision to grab him was completely out of line,” said Ms Choo. She added that the police had explained they did not know Sebastien had special needs until they spotted a bag with a sign and her phone number on him.

Adding they were “nice and apologetic”, she noted that their actions had “unnecessarily escalated a situation that could have caused Sebastien to explode in aggression out of fear and stress”. Sebastien was later released into her boyfriend’s care.

Offering “food for thought” for the public, Ms Choo said: “When you witness this odd spectacle of a tall, gangly young man hopping up and down in front of a side view mirror of a truck, you have a choice. You can either choose to observe and then understand, smile, and relax because it is more entertaining than threatening ... or you can react mindlessly in fear and call the police.”

Her post drew sympathetic comments on social media.

“I wish people will try to overcome (their) fears and not overreact,” wrote Facebook user Tan Siang Keng.

Another Facebook user, Cen-Lin Ting, acknowledging the police were in a difficult position, noted: “This is something we worry very much about: How or what happens when a special needs (child) (has a) brush with the law.”

When contacted, Ms Choo declined further comment.

In response to media queries, the police said that they were notified of the incident around 12.15pm on Saturday. “When approached by officers, the youth was uncooperative and violent. He was subsequently detained and handcuffed to prevent him from harming himself,” said a spokesperson.

After establishing that he has special needs, he was released to his guardian, who arrived shortly after being contacted by the police. “No further police assistance was required,” the spokesperson added.

TODAY understands that Sebastien was unable to identify himself to the police. He had previously been involved in a similar incident at East Coast Park last December.

Ms Choo wrote in a subsequent post on Saturday that Sebastien seemed fine most of the day.

“We are giving him the space to work through these emotions, while monitoring him,” she said.

For original article: TODAY Online: Autistic youth’s mother urges greater understanding of people with special needs

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