A Valuable Lesson from the Legal System

21 Sep

Let me tell you a story, a true story about a young man with autism who learned something very valuable from the legal system.

Harold was an eighteen-year-old young man with autism. He was a big kid — literally and figuratively. He was (and is) significantly overweight for his stature. His heart was (and is) golden, like a young boy who has not been tarnished by failure and disappointment.

Harold was with his classmates in his 18-21-year-old program at a local bowling alley. Five teams of four were selected, sent to their lanes with their balls to lace up, and told to have fun.

But, there was a problem. Harold’s team had three players. Not four. He told his teacher that he needed, wanted, had to have another player. She tried to explain everything was “okay”. But he needed, wanted, and had to have another player. She refused.

Harold became upset. He yelled at her and followed her. If you are thinking, “He’s a big kid, and a big kid following a teacher does not have positive results,” you are right. The police were called. The police picked up Harold. The police released Harold.

Harold’s school wanted him charged with assault. His parents hired a lawyer knowledgeable in special needs. I helped Harold prepare for his case, and I helped Harold the day of his trial. The judge put Harold on diversion, which would keep this charge from his permanent record, if he spent one  year free of “menacing and harassing behaviors.” His school wanted him in jail for a day and banned from watching the television show “Family Guy.”

Harold’s year of diversion ended yesterday. “Incident free.” I asked Harold, “What did you learn this past year?” Harold said, “Not to correct the judge if he says my name wrong.”  You see, that day a year ago when the judge asked Harold if he had any questions, the judge pronounced Harold’s full name incorrectly. He raised his hand to correct the judge, but then remember our plan: “If I have a question, ask Jeanne first.”

So, Harold quickly pulled his hand down and whispered ever-so-not quietly to me, “He pronounced my last name wrong.” “I know,” I said, “let’s make sure he never knows how to correctly pronounce it.”

By the way, Harold “grabbed” his teacher’s arm so that she would not call his parents to pick him up from the bowling alley. “I just needed another player. How else would it be fair?”


Posted by on September 21, 2010 in Educating the NTs


4 responses to “A Valuable Lesson from the Legal System

  1. Kathleen

    September 25, 2010 at 12:56 AM

    My son with ASD is facing two charges of battery. One for hitting a girl who hit him first. One for grabbing a girls arm who was trying to walk away from him. It has been 6 months since the last incident and we have spent $300 to bail him out of jail, $1600 in attorney’s fees, had him evaluated for anger management issues, and still do not know what will happen with him.

    • jholverstott

      September 25, 2010 at 5:17 AM

      Kathleen, is there an option to place him on Diversion? That is how the situation was moderately resolved in the case I wrote about. Given my experience, the “anger management” classes are not entirely successful for a variety of reasons, especially those related to the fact that they do not understand individuals with ASDs in the least bit. In this situation, I was fortunate enough to be able to serve as the therapist deliverable of “anger management” services. Perhaps you can find someone who might understand the spectrum and address anger management issues?

  2. anon

    September 27, 2010 at 1:11 AM

    Where Does one find a lawyer that understands these special needs issues. I’ve been sorta screwed by the legal system in this area where serious errors and a miscarriage of justice was made. I have yet to find competent counsel.

    • jholverstott

      September 27, 2010 at 3:49 AM

      My best recommendation is to bring the issue up at local support groups with parents. They know or know of other parents who are considering litigation and can point you in the right direction. Parental word of mouth of golden.


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