The Slow Motion Tragedy of An Autistic Teen's Death
Last week, Stephon Watts, age 15, was shot dead by police officers that his family called to their home because they believed that that was the only way they could get help with his behavior. Mark Brown of The Chicago Sun-Times rightly points out the tragedy of his death has more to do with the lack of support to autistic teenagers and their families than the specifics of what happened on the day Stephon died:
To review, though, police say they shot the 6-foot, 196-pound boy in self-defense after he attacked officers with a knife and slashed one of them in the arm. His mother, who says it was a butter knife, has accused police of “cold-blooded murder” and says they should have been better prepared to handle the situation after previous trips to the home.
Wayne Watts, designated by the family to do the talking because of the lawsuit, said his brother called police that day expecting officers to arrange for his son to be taken by ambulance to Streamwood Behavioral Healthcare Systems, as was the case when he was hospitalized for two weeks after a similar outburst in December.
Stephon was diagnosed as autistic at 9 by doctors at the University of Chicago, his family said. His condition was later identified as Asperger’s syndrome, a disorder in which individuals may have normal to high intelligence but struggle with social interaction. That often includes difficulty in calming themselves when angry or upset. “He was a beautiful person, Mark. He was a lovely child,” his uncle said of the boy he described as a “computer genius.” “That’s the only thing he cared about was computers,” Watts said.
What Stephon didn’t much like was attending school. On the day he was killed, he refused to go to a new school he had just started two days earlier, and his father took away his computer, triggering an emotional outburst.
His family believed they had to call police to get support with his violent outbursts, but no law or policy requiring them to exists.