Cops Question Family after Stranger Calls Them about Autistic 5-Year-Old


Parents with autistic children face more than the typical challenges other parents face. For them, the challenges and rewards can be much more intense.

Author Mary Cobb wrote an essay for The Washington Post in which, among other things, she highlighted some of the experiences she and her husband had with simply taking their 5-year-old son Johnny, out with them.

She noted experiences with the “moderately autistic” Johnny who is “prone to violent outbursts and self-injurious behavior” such as head-butting his father while being carried, fighting being put into his car seat, and slamming his own head against the car window.

Cobb shared that once while struggling to secure him in his car seat, the waistband tie of her sweatpants came undone and they, along with her underpants, slipped down to her ankles while she was in a church parking lot.

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She noted that in times such as that, she “would have relished the help of a concerned citizen or police officer.”

But then last year, shortly before Thanksgiving, her mother was visiting them and Johnny was having a great day.

They took him to a new park and even though they still couldn’t brush his hair or get him to wear clothes that fit just right, they got a tremendous amount of cooperation and had an enjoyable time.

It was a miraculous thing and they were all reveling in it until they noticed some police officers headed toward them. First they assumed the cops would walk on by, but they didn’t. They stopped when they reached the family and began questioning them about Johnny.

The short explanation that Johnny is autistic did not prevent the encounter from continuing, with one officer explaining, “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.”

Cobb explained that as she answered, her “face burned with anger” and her “stomach was sick with shock.”  She said, “He’s autistic and because of his severe sensory issues, we have difficulty brushing and cutting his hair.”

The police acknowledged that there was “clearly nothing going on here,” and that “It’s clearly just a case of bed-head,” but the family was left reeling that someone would actually report them as being bad parents when every moment of every day was spent patiently working with Johnny, advocating for him and getting him the best treatment they can.

It seemed even more ludicrous given the fact he’d had such a great day that day, and on so many others it could have appeared they were kidnapping him or worse.

People who read the story were largely supportive, although Cobb tweeted that her “hilarious husband” advised her not to read all the comments about her essay because “They’ll cling to you like a cheap suit.” Mostly though, Cobb was just very appreciative for all of the support, something parents of autistic children don’t always feel coming from the world at large.

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According to the Autism Speaks website, statistics from the CDC cite the prevalence of autism in the United States as being found in approximately 1 in 68 children.

How common it is in the population highlights a point Cobb made in her essay that perhaps there needs to be things such as “less worry and more support…less judgment and more acceptance…less of what [her] friend Sara Zaske…has called ‘the destructive police-calling culture’ and more true help and awareness.”

It is Cobb’s hope that those autistic children struggling to “adapt to a world that they perceive as hostile” will get the help they need from a compassionate and helpful public. Clearly, the parents could use some of that same help and support as well.

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