PETALING JAYA: An expert has warned of the difficulties police may face in coming up with a standard operating procedure (SOP) for the arrest of individuals with disabilities (OKU) or special needs such as autism.
Charlene Marie Samuel, the director of an autism behavioural centre in Kuala Lumpur, said normal procedures would not work with autistic individuals who might “shut down” due to stress and anxiety.
“If you shout at them, it will not help a person on that spectrum as many find it difficult to regulate their emotions.
“Some may even inflict pain upon themselves due to their frustration. Some may react to the source of the stress, although not out of aggression.
“How individuals with autism understand the world can be different from how you and I do,” she told FMT.
Deputy Home Minister Mohd Azis Jamman said earlier this week that there was no SOP for the arrest and detention of OKU or special needs individuals.
He added that the police would make the necessary improvements to the existing SOP, with a special room for the documentation process, police bail, medical reports and release procedures among the elements to be studied.
Charlene said a useful rule of thumb for police officers was to observe individuals who may be autistic when approaching them.
She said officers should look out for the way in which such people react to visual or audio stimuli like police sirens as sensory challenges are common among autistic individuals.
“They may not be able to cope with the sound or light. Some may want to touch the lights.
“As the person in power, you will have to observe the mannerisms of these individuals and how they react to stimuli.”
She also advised the police to use simple sentences and to hold communications in an environment with minimum distractions as autistic people may not respond when surrounded by too much disturbance.
She urged the police to bear in mind that the mental age of people with autism may differ from their chronological age, especially for those on the moderate to severe end of the spectrum.
“They may seem like full-grown adults, but mentally they are not.
“Some do not understand the difference between genders, or have not developed their sexuality, and some do not understand boundaries and personal space.”
The question of SOP for the arrest of special needs individuals arose following the detention of a 22-year-old autistic man earlier this year.
Ahmad Ziqri Morshidi was arrested and detained on allegations of molestation. This resulted in a petition calling for the authorities to review their SOP.
Importance of records
Behavioural consultant Sitra Panirsheeluam highlighted the importance of having proven records, noting concerns that individuals suspected of committing offences could get away with claiming disability.
“We can’t have SOP where everyone can get away by saying they have a disability. Rapists are somewhat psychologically affected – can we leave them out?”
Established records would therefore be needed to prove that a person had been diagnosed with autism and had been going for treatment from an early age, she said.
She also recommended that the government focus on standardising early intervention so that records of individuals with autism could be used as reference.
This was important as there was often no record of autistic individuals, she said.
“If someone has diabetes, there would be hospital records of their treatment which can be tracked through their IC number,” she said.
“But with autism, we do not have a record of these people.”
Sitra suggested that the government start by regulating child development centres which deal with autistic children.
She said centres should also develop an individualised education plan which details the short- and long-term goals of the child’s treatment, tailored to his or her unique situation.
“If we do not have this, it will be difficult to track down their history, the intervention taken and their current condition.
“If we have records of their early intervention, we can advise the police on a SOP for them,” she said.
Original Article Published HERE