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?”