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May Cobb, novelist and freelance writer, shares how a fun day at the park turned sour when someone called the police on her family.

“It had been a good day at the park, shares May. A miracle day, in fact, for our family. Our 5-year-old son, who is moderately autistic and prone to violent outbursts and self-injurious behavior, had sailed through the outing without a meltdown. So it was all the more shocking when the police approached us.”

“We had been struggling for weeks with getting (and keeping) my son dressed. He had been in a protest phase with his clothes and diaper, but on this morning, he not only let us dress him, he even selected his pants. Sure, they were a size too small and the legs crept up like high waters, but we were thrilled he had chosen them himself.

“When we arrived at the park, a sharp breeze from the lake blasted us, so my husband reached into my son’s backpack for a heavy sweater. Another miracle: He allowed my husband to pull the sweater on him, something he normally resists.

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“His baby-fine strawberry blonde hair was tangled in some places and my mom remarked we would work on it that evening. Because he also has sensory processing disorder, he can’t stand having his hair brushed. Also, he is terrified of scissors, so my mom has become his official hairdresser when she is in town. My husband and I assist, holding his hands out of harm’s way and steadying his head as my mother trims his hair.

“When we announced to my son that it was time to go — setting the timer on our iPhone as his therapists had suggested to help him handle the transition, counting down the final seconds for him until the alert sounded — he took my husband’s hand and willingly turned away from the water. Another miracle.

“We headed back to the car. My husband walked ahead with my son while my mom and I high-fived at what a great day it had been. It was the first time we had left a park without him fighting us, and she was marveling over that. We looked up and noticed two police officers striding toward us. I assumed they would keep walking past us, but one of the officers stopped and removed his sunglasses.

“Can we talk to you a second,” he asked, “about your son?”

“My husband called out over his shoulder, “He’s autistic,” and kept walking my son to the car.

The officer’s face burned with embarrassment. I assumed he was getting ready to inform me that rock-throwing wasn’t allowed, but he said…

“We got a call about your son. The people who called were worried that because of his hair, and because of his pants, that you weren’t taking good care of him.”

Now my faced burned with anger and my stomach was sick with shock.

“He’s autistic,” I told them, “and because of his severe sensory issues, we have difficulty brushing and cutting his hair.”

Both officers nodded their heads in understanding.

“You’re talking about my grandson,” my mother hissed.

“Yes, there’s clearly nothing going on here,” the red-faced officer said.

“I’m so glad you were called to investigate this instead of more serious crimes,” I said, tears threatening to strangle my voice.

“It’s clearly just a case of bed-head,” the same officer said by way of apology. “Sorry to have bothered you.”

To suggest that a parent of a special-needs child isn’t taking good enough care of their kid is an insult that overlooks their ceaseless worrying, constant advocating and exhaustive caretaking.

And honestly, of all of the moments we’ve had in public I can’t believe this one triggered a call of concern to the police.

The police were called on us because my son was having a bad hair day. What does this say about our society?

Read May’s full article on Washington Post.

Reading this is so infuriating. How could anyone do that to a family? They must have seen how they were all interacting together surely?

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  • I can understand people’s concern if he had been throwing things or yelling etc. but just because he looked a little unkempt? My youngest son doesn’t have autism but he would always pick clothes that were too small and wouldn’t brush his hair at times. It’s what kids’ do. At least they got to have a great time with their son before the police arrived. I think the policeman involved need to be congratulated for the way they reacted when they found out the truth.

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  • If the people were so concerned, surely watching the family interacting with their child should have put their mind at ease.

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  • Amazing story. Is it only in America? Here in Aust where I live, police can’t come out to a burglary let alone a child with a bad hair day!!!

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  • People can be so ridiculous! In all honesty maybe if they had been paying more attention to the family and not the child’s hair and clothing they might have noticed how much they loved him and that he was being well looked after. My husband who has Aspergers and can sometimes have difficulty with how he displays emotion when he gets stressed out, had the police called on him by our neighbour because he yelled at our daughter a bit when he was trying to ascertain whether or not she had swallowed some aroldyte glue, yes he yelled but he was panicking that she was poisoned (yes, it was a bit of an overreaction). Anyone who knows my husband would know that he would never hurt either of our kids and he loves them to death. He also had them called a second time for yelling, and again it was simply a parent raising their voice to a disobedient child or some such normal thing. Absolutely ridiculous!

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  • It is sad the family had to go through this.

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  • I read this elsewhere and was so concerned about the entire situation. This poor child, this poor family. What an absolutely distressing situation. Their life is hard. Tough and challenging raising a child on the spectrum. And to be treated this way is apalling.


    • It is appalling and saddening for the family.

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  • I wonder if the people that called the police could have taken the time to go over and chat with the parents/family? That would be community minded! Possibly then facts would be known rather than assumptions and judgments.

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  • Some people have nothing better to do or are scare to face the actual problem. I had people come up to me and ask what I was doing to some of my children. Why did my ten year old have rope tied around his waist? Answer was he liked to wear it and felt safe doing so, other times we have had police or child services called. We now have a letter from his specialist to show why he dresses different.

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  • I understand her son was autistic, but what if he wasn’t? What if it was a child that was being neglected? What if the family was genuinely struggling and needed help?
    There are lots of kids who need help but should we turn a blind eye in case we offend? Sure we can possible try to talk to people who look like they need assistance before calling authorities, but that doesn’t mean we should ignore it.

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  • That’s the problem. These so-called ‘good and caring citizens’ who stick their noses into other people’s businesses, ought to go and get a hobby or volunteer their services to help those in need. Maybe the person who dobbed you in could have availed their services to assist you if they were so concerned about your son. I wish people would stop playing ‘Kilroy’ and mind their own business and cease calling on our essential services for such trivial matters, and let them do their job and catch the real baddies’. Anyone who has worked with, or is raising an autistic child will understand the complexities taking place in their lives and how difficult it is for their parents and carers. If they did, they wouldn’t waste our authorities time unnecessarily. You know who you are, causing problems for this family. SHAME ON YOU!

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  • It is a tricky situation, you want to know people will look out for your children but you also want people to understand about Autism or what ever else might be affecting your children

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  • I can imagine this is infuriating and kind of sad at the same time !
    Yesterday evening my 2 temporary foster children started fighting with my son. An enormous amount of violence and shouting came from our house. Glad nobody called on us !!

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  • That poor family must have felt so embarrassed. However if the public are worried about a child they should always call for help. You just never know when a child or family is in real need.

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  • Quite absurd. Because of his hair? Some people clearly don’t have anything better to do. I can imagine how upset the family was. And how this episode destroyed the all day of fun they had. :-(

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  • I guess I’d rather that then the ppl who turn a blind eye to neglected children – but that does seem like overkill.

    Reply

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