I have met so many amazing people throughout my career. As a police officer you meet a wide variety of people, and for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it is a casual conversation or interaction. Other times it is a crisis situation. As your career progresses, you sometimes forget the impact you may have had on other people’s lives. Some are good, and unfortunately some are bad. We should always strive for the good. I have had people approach me throughout the years and tell me about an interaction that we had. Honestly, as you get deep into your career as an officer, much of what you did throughout your career starts to run together. You find that you have done things over your career that you do not remember until someone jars your memory.
A common, and interesting aspect of Autism Spectrum Disorders is an ability to remember things. They can remember names, places, statistics, and every single detail of events that occurred. years ago. I remember walking into a group home one day and immediately being bombarded with questions from an adult with Autism. One thing he wanted to know was my birth day. I told him, and then he asked me “what year?” I told him the year, and he immediately told me that I was born on a Friday. I went on about my business not thinking much about it but then became curious. When I left, the first thing I did was a little research. Even with my phone, it took me a lot longer to find out what day of the week I was born on than it did him. However, I did discover that he was correct. How did he know? It was MY birth day, and I had never even known that I was born on a Friday. This was just one incident where I realized the amazing abilities of people with Autism or Asperger’s. Over my years interacting with individuals with Autism, I have walked away from almost every interaction in amazement.
Most people with Autism want the same things that other people have. They want friends, boyfriends, and girlfriends. They want to belong and be invited to birthday parties. They also hope that someone shows up to their birthday party. Autism is a Spectrum Disorder. This means that every single person with Autism is different. They have social, communicative, and behavioral challenges. Each to varying degrees. There are individuals who may be non-speaking with many challenges and may require support needs throughout their lives. There are others who can speak and carry on casual conversation. Many people with Autism even drive. Many of them hold down jobs. They live and work in our communities, and I dare say that we come in contact with them on a daily basis. It is just that unless you have an understanding of Autism, you may not recognize it. You may notice little quirks or odd behaviors, but these individuals are capable of so many things. I have met an amazing artist with Autism. I know a professional model and beauty pageant competitor/winner with Autism. They embrace their Autism. They realize that they can do the same, if not more, than many neurotypical individuals. They realize that their Autism gives them abilities that they can use to make the world a better place. The only thing that they need is an opportunity.
I would encourage everyone to give these amazing people opportunities. Having spent 30 years as a police officer, I have seen the best and the worst of people, and in people. I can attest to the fact that if evil was a disability, it would bankrupt the world financially. We all have our unique gifts. We all have been given these gifts and abilities which should be allowed to flourish, but it is difficult if there is not opportunity. All that is needed is for one door to open for all of us to be blessed. I just want people to realize that people with disabilities can do many of the things that all of us can do. They may just do it differently. They deserve accommodations to allow them opportunities. With the desire in their hearts and the means to accomplish goals, they can shock and amaze the world. They are truly “differently abled”, and given the right set of circumstances, “better abled”.
I implore every single person to open our eyes. Look at what is around you and who is around you. Notice it all. Realize that the person in line with you at the grocery store may have a disability. Realize that the person working the cash register and ringing up your order may have a disability. Understand the importance of every single person and appreciate the differences as we try to make the world a better place to live.