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As many of you know, I am the single father of a mentally-challenged, severely autistic, speech-limited adult man. It should be noted that my son has an extensive history of elopement (running away – see also here, here, and here), self-injurious behavior, and occasional aggression. My son has escaped without detection from every school he has attended, including preschool at the age of three, and with the exception of high school when he was retrieved as he was attempting to leave the campus, which was situated on a hill one block from a toll-road where cars travel sometimes in excess of 65 mph.
At age 10, he escaped from our house and made his way up to the same toll-road when some motorists pulled over and managed to detain him until the authorities arrived. About three months later, he escaped from his caregiver’s home and ran across several streets until he was hit by a two-ton truck that nearly killed him. He spent a week in the hospital and a few days in pediatric ICU. He sustained a broken jaw, contusions, and over the next six months fully recovered. He continued to elope as he got older and has been returned to our home several times in the back of county sheriff’s cars. He is not traffic-safe.
He also occasionally has moments of aggression. These occur when he doesn’t want to take a bath, come downstairs for dinner, or for reasons unknown since his speech disability prevents him from articulating why he might be angry. Over the years and to this day, he has lashed out at those trying to care for him. All that said, he is, for the most part, I would say about 90% of the time, a happy-go-lucky young man who has a vivid imagination and a good sense of humor.
It should be noted that the description of my son and his history is very similar to thousands of mentally-challenged, autistic men and women around the country and around the world.
Whenever I or any of my son’s caregivers or his day program mentor travel in the car with my son, I insist that child locks are in use to prevent my son from exiting the vehicle unexpectedly. My son also sits in the backseat (behind the front passenger’s seat) of cars because he once deliberately broke a caregiver’s windshield and stereo system. It’s safer for both the driver, my son, and other vehicles on the road if there is some distance between him and the driver, the steering wheel, and gearshift. When my son was younger, I neglected to use the child lock one day and while I was driving with him up Interstate 5 near San Juan Capistrano. He opened his car door. I managed to pull over to the shoulder and activate the child lock and then we continued on our way.
It came to my attention yesterday that the ADSAC (Adult Day Services Advisory Committee and Adult Behavior Management Committee) of my county’s Regional Center office here in California has proposed a policy on prohibiting the use of child locks in vehicles when mentally-challenged, special needs adults are being transported in a vehicle by a day program mentor. Regional Center is a nonprofit organization contracted by the State of California to coordinate lifelong services and supports for individuals with developmental disabilities and their families.
During the ADSAC discussion, it was articulated that the use of child locks in cars was a form of restraint and a violation of the mentally-challenged, special needs person’s rights. Apparently at the end of the meeting, it was communicated that “all day programs vendored with” the Regional Center “are being advised not to ‘train’ or implement” child locks “when providing transportation to ANY persons served.”
It’s astonishing and shocking to me that a state-contracted agency tasked with understanding the special needs of mentally-challenged young adults and adults, many of whom have a history of elopement, and/or aggressive behaviors, would want to create conditions where the special needs adult is more likely rather than less likely to harm themselves and others in the community by giving them the means to escape a vehicle based on someone’s assumption that their rights are being violated.
Have hundreds or thousands of special-needs adults complained that their rights are being infringed when child locks are used? Highly unlikely. Or is this just someone’s guess?
The State of California requires by law that passengers wear seatbelts when operating or riding in a motor vehicle. This is a form of restraint mandated by law. It’s done for the safety of the driver and passengers. Over the years, there have been voluminous discussions in the public arena whether seatbelt laws are an infringement of an individual’s rights, but people have come to accept these laws because they understand that the risk for severe injury, ejection from the vehicle, and a higher probability of death would occur if the seatbelt is not worn.
By not using a child-lock when transporting a mentally-challenged adult who likely has a history of elopement, self-injurious or aggressive episodes creates conditions where they can not only harm themselves and others but creates a condition where they know if they take off their seatbelts they can exit the vehicle while it is stopped or in motion and attempt to escape. Certainly, this would diminish the adherence of abiding by the California seatbelt law.
And where does this thinking stop as it applies to mentally-challenged adults who aren’t as cognizant of the potential harm they can do if they have the opportunity to exit a vehicle, to themselves and to other motorists or to others in the community, if they have an opportunity to elope? Is having a day program mentor (caregiver) also a form of restraint and an infringement on the special needs client’s rights? Should mentors restrain their clients from walking across busy streets or should the client have the right to tempt fate, dodge oncoming vehicles and, with a high probability, injure himself or herself?
It seems to me that this is the same sort of thinking has resulted in thousands of mentally-challenged, schizophrenics, drug addicts, and others who inject their veins with heroin (often with city-provided syringes and needles) and who defecate on the sidewalks of many of California’s cities – San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento, and San Diego — because heaven-forbid we infringe upon their rights and give them the care they really need.
Just one more little battle I’m having to deal with (I previously had to deal with representatives from the Superior Court’s public defenders’ office who deliberately perjured themselves in reports to the court regarding fabricating conversations that my son supposedly had with them). For the time being, my Regional Center representative has communicated that my son can still be transported with the child lock engaged — for the time being — and that more discussion is underway internally about the proposed policy. I have threatened to remove my son from the day program if Regional Center is insistent that the new child-unlock policy is to be enforced.Published in