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The Duct Taping of a Boy With Autism…

In Tacoma WA this week, kids videotaped what looked like a child abduction. A man was seen using duct tape to secure a boy and worked on dragging him away. The kids called 911. It is what I would want anyone to do in this situation if it were my child. The video sparked a lot of outrage in the community that an adult would use duct tape in this way and the local police have characterized it as child abuse.

But wait- There is more to the story. The man with the duct tape was the boy’s Grandfather. The boy has Autism and is 11 years old. The Grandfather was desperately trying to keep this child from running into the street where there was busy traffic. This puts a different light on the situation.

Many people’s reaction was that what the Grandfather did was wrong and abusive. I can understand where they are coming from. I don’t know this family, and I only know the barest details of the case.

A local news station reached out to me and wanted to interview me as a parent of a child with Autism to get a family’s perspective. It just so happens that I have an 11 year-old boy with Autism too. The reporter asked if I thought it was abuse.

The Face of Autism

The answer I don’t think is an easy yes or no. The people who videotaped what they saw and called 911 absolutely did the right thing. It did look like a child abduction. But here’s the thing, these kids with Autism can be very fast. They can be very strong, Frequently they do not react or respond to their name, and are not sufficiently aware of the dangers surrounding them.

So you find yourself in a position where you have this kid- in my case an almost 12-year-old boy who weighs 120 lbs and is over 5 ft. There are cars speeding by and you are desperately trying to keep him safe but he is determined to not do what you need him to do to be safe. What do you do? A call to 911 isn’t going to get a fast enough response to keep your child from darting into oncoming traffic. You have to do EVERYTHING in your power to keep this child alive and safe. They are stronger than you, just as determined as you. They are having a meltdown of epic proportions. How are you going to accomplish this? Would you use duct tape in this scenario if you had nothing else?

I would never advocate the use of duct tape. But I am saying I can completely understand how a Grandfather or Parent would get to that point. For me, the question of abuse would be whether or not once he was in a safe place he was released from the duct tape, or if it was something regularly used to keep him restrained. For me, that is the difference.

Why is it important to talk about this? Because unless we do, those who do not have a family member with Autism, or a Mental Illness, or other issues, will not understand what we deal with. You have no frame of reference for understanding these situations that we FREQUENTLY find ourselves in. We have to speak up and make people hear us so that they understand that we have a different life experience than they do. Was it the best choice for the Grandfather to use duct tape? Probably not. But as family members, no one trains us in proper restraint techniques. No one was there to help him and he just wanted to keep his grandson safe. So I don’t feel called on to judge this man.