Life with AS & SPD from a woman's perspective

How should police handle people with autism?
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Allison Kramer of Carpentersville acknowledges having a “meltdown” with police and attacking an officer. Her case, though, underscores the challenge for police in questioning people such as Kramer, who has autism.

Allison Kramer of Carpentersville acknowledges having a “meltdown” with police and attacking an officer. Her case, though, underscores the challenge for police in questioning people such as Kramer, who has autism.
Rick West | Staff Photographer
Lenore T. Adkins
Lenore T. Adkins

Allison Kramer readily admits she had “a meltdown” when she threw a framed photo at a police officer and kneed him in the groin.

But she also described the officer as “antagonistic” and, five months later, remains steadfast that Carpentersville police poorly handled their visit to her house.

The offense? First responders asked too many questions too quickly and insinuated that Kramer, 34, might have flipped off her circuit breaker, causing the power outage that prompted her call to police on that frigid January night. The power outage was critical because her 75-year-old mother, Ruth, who shared the home with Kramer, was on an electrically powered oxygen machine.

Though characterizing Kramer as the aggressor, police did not arrest her, taking her instead to Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin for a mental health evaluation because of her agitated state. They also say today the officer who engaged Kramer “exercised excellent discretion.”

All this would seem to indicate an open-and-shut case of an appropriate police response to a tricky situation.

But there’s an important distinction about Allison Kramer: She has autism.

With substantial growth in the numbers of people diagnosed with autism, and police training on how to deal with them optional in many instances, Kramer’s case underscores a delicate issue for police: How to question someone who might not handle it well?

“Even if they did everything right, she still could have thrown something at them,” said Mary Kay Betz, executive director of the Autism Society of Illinois. “But studies show if you use the de-escalation methods, you have a better outcome.”

Nonstop questions

In discussing the January incident at length with the Daily Herald, Allison Kramer wanted to remain calm. So she retold her version of events while rapidly rocking in a chair and reading from a script.

Kramer was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome when she was 19.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website, Asperger syndrome is “an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), one of a distinct group of complex neurodevelopment disorders characterized by social impairment, communication difficulties, and restrictive, repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior. … The severity of communication and behavioral deficits, and the degree of disability, is variable. Asperger syndrome is considered by many to be the mildest form of ASD and is synonymous with the most highly functioning individuals with ASD.”

Kramer says she is “highly functioning” but sensory issues make it difficult for her to function in the outside world. She doesn’t work, says she has no friends, and takes medicine to control her mood and chronic anxiety. She often wears headphones to soften loud noises.

Her mother died in March, and Kramer’s older sister moved in to look after her.

On the night Kramer called police, the responding officer asked her a barrage of questions, says Kramer, who also said she told the officer she has autism.

“I tried to explain to the antagonistic male officer that I could not handle his nonstop questions if he would not give me the time to speak,” she said.

Fight or flight

Police officers today are likely to encounter more people with autism.

One in 68 American children has an autism spectrum disorder, 30 percent more than two years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The study also found nearly half the children with an autism spectrum disorder have average or above-average intellectual ability compared with one-third of children 10 years ago.

In Illinois, police officer training on communicating with people with autism has been mandatory for newly hired officers since 2007, which means many officers have received no training, Betz said.

The decision on whether to undergo additional training rests with individual police departments, she said.

People with autism have to be approached differently, and first responders need to know how to neutralize encounters, Betz said.

For example, it could take between 15 and 20 minutes to calm down an autistic person before questioning can even start.

“There’s a whole protocol on how first responders should obviously make sure everyone is safe, but if there wasn’t a fire … or if no one was hurt, they could have really de-escalated the situation before (Kramer) got into that fight or flight mode,” Betz said.

‘Sensory overload’

The Carpentersville police report says that in addition to the power outage, Kramer told the dispatcher she was having breathing and anxiety issues.

Officer Eric Holzer arrived, and after seeing the rest of the block had power, he checked the Kramer home’s circuit box and saw its main switch was set to “off.” Holzer flipped it to “on,” which restored the power.

Holzer asked the Kramers whether they’d turned the power off themselves and the younger Kramer said she had the week before, but not that night.

Within the first five to 10 minutes of the call, Kramer said she told the officer she has autism. The police report said her older sister gave them the same information on the phone.

Kramer said police and paramedics were “barking” too many questions at her about the outage, didn’t give her enough time to respond and suggested she deliberately turned the power off. The noise from the sirens and the radios and the lights from the service vehicles also disturbed her.

Taken together, the events ignited a “sensory overload,” and Kramer says she snapped. She removed a framed picture from the wall and threw it at Holzer. It landed a couple of feet away from him and broke.

What happened next is in dispute.

Kramer says Holzer told her she was going to jail and started coming toward her. Conversely, the police report says she ran at the officer as she yelled at him.

In either case, Holzer grabbed her arms and told her to stop. Kramer kneed him in the inner thigh. Holzer put her on the couch, held her down, and with other officers, handcuffed her. Kramer kneed him a second time during the scuffle, this time in the groin, the police report said.

“I did what most women would do when being attacked by a male,” Kramer said. “Uniform or not, I fought back and I kicked him.”

Officers placed Kramer in a squad car and took her to Advocate Sherman Hospital in Elgin for an evaluation. She was not arrested, due to her mental state, the police report said.

Training followed

Carpentersville Public Safety Director Al Popp says Holzer, a seven-year veteran, acted appropriately. “I thought he exercised excellent discretion,” Popp said.

Kramer has had other contacts with police, they say. She has previously complained about someone setting off fireworks near the public works building and has also asked police to address noisy children in her neighborhood.

Holzer’s training, though, on how to approach people with autism was limited to a 13-minute police video on the topic, said Deputy Police Chief Michael Kilbourne.

In June the Carpentersville Police Department hosted an autism course through North East Multi-Regional Training Inc., a training organization for law enforcement.

The eight-hour course, provided by Giant Steps Therapeutic Day School in Lisle, offered the latest information on autism spectrum disorders and how to properly manage people who have it.

Holzer and another Carpentersville officer were among those attending the course. They will share what they learned with the police department later this year, Kilbourne said. Autism training occurs every other year in Carpentersville.

“Autism for us is a known situation in our community that we have to be prepared to respond to and address professionally,” he said.

Russell Laine, past president of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, said in Illinois the training officers receive is not extensive, but it gives them a basic understanding on how best to approach people with autism.

Overall, police departments are learning how best to serve people with special needs. It’s a challenge because officers require a different type of training, he said.

“It’s complicating, but it’s something we need to do,” said Laine, also Algonquin’s police chief.

After the Kramer incident, Kilbourne sent an email about it and Asperger syndrome throughout the department to ensure officers are aware of Kramer and her diagnosis. Otherwise, the matter hasn’t prompted the department to change any of its procedures.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything differently whatsoever,” Popp said. “We followed our training and protocols on this.”

Kramer says she doesn’t trust the Carpentersville police but acknowledges she was wrong to attack Holzer. She wrote him a letter of apology.

“I apologized to the police officer because I thought I should do the Christian thing,” Kramer said. “And I can’t be a Christian if I can’t forgive somebody, whether I feel like it or not.”

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Note: I am now almost exclusively operating on my G+ page. I hope you will visit.

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I don’t know about you, but I want our native food sources like chicken to stay here in the U.S. We have outsourced so much in the past 20 years.
The effects of NAFTA should be enough proof along with 2 wars that we can’t afford to take more jobs away from this country and risk our health.



Yesterday, at a Congressional hearing I attended in Washington, D.C., Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) expressed deep concern about the safety of processed chicken and pet treats imported from China.

As many of you know, I have a petition on (with co-petitioners Bettina Elias Siegel and Barbara Kowalcyk) titled “Congress: Keep Chinese Chicken Out of Our Schools and Supermarkets,” that currently has over 323,000 signatures. We’ve been working closely with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) to ensure that chicken processed in China is not served to students in the National School Lunch Program and that China cannot eventually ship its own slaughtered poultry to this country.

In his opening remarks, Senator Brown, who chairs the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, set the tone for the hearing by stating, “Americans want to know where their foods come from and want to make sure that everything is being done to keep…

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Autism awareness fact #1: Some people on the autism spectrum are sensory sensitive. Some areas include auditory and tactile. Fireworks, dogs barking and fans humming may be excruciating to the autistic individual, prompting compensating devices such as earplugs or white-noise. Scratchy tags or wool in clothing  may prompt a rash to develop on their skin. 
Autism acceptance idea #1: Recognize that we are not being “difficult”. We are not trying purposely to inconvenience you when we scream at a loud noise or tear off the sweater you just bought us. Autism is a NEUROLOGICAL disorder involving, in part, the frontal & temporal lobes. These are areas responsible for impulse control and sensory input. We make accommodations EVERY DAY to function in a world that thrives on noise and distractions bombarding us on multiple fronts. It is not asking too much when we ask you to turn the music down, close the car window or to buy only cotton clothing.


Allison wearing her “ear gear” in March, 2012.

 Autism awareness fact #2: No two people with autism are alike. That is why autism is defined as being on a spectrum or continuum. Some, like me, have sensory problems they compensate DEARLY for on an ongoing basis. Others may not be as affected by their sensory problems. Still others are affected by only 1 or 2 of the 5 senses, to varying degrees. Some are even sensory seekers. 

Autism acceptance idea #2: Remember that autism is pervasive; it affects the entire brain, including but not limited to the frontal and temporal lobes. Medical procedures such as PET scans and Complex EEG show that our brains are always “on”. We rarely get a rest from our over-processing brains and as a result may even suffer sleep disorder. Give us extra time in responding to a command or question. You may even have to repeat yourself. This may be irritating to you, and we assure you that the ongoing struggle to avoid sensory overload and respond inappropriately is surely irritating to us. Work on things such as kindness and patience. Treat us as you wish you could be treated. Forgive. A lot. These last 2 statements are ones we ALL can practice!

On the spectrum, not a stereotype

Autism awareness fact #3: We are a constant work in progress, as you are. From day 1 we are being re-oriented by parents & specialists to live in ways foreign to us. From having to show affection in ways uncomfortable to us such as hugging to dressing ourselves in a prescribed way like wearing shirts right-side out and tying our shoes (what’s wrong with Crocs?). Using a fork & knife when hands do fine by us is another obstacle that may take us years beyond what “NT” kids do with ease.  You name it, we have to work 2X as hard as you non-spectrum people do.

Autism acceptance idea #3: Be patient! Be kind! Don’t expect us to always accomplish tasks based on your time table. Don’t call us degrading names such as “spaz” or the “R” word to justify your impatience. In a society dominated and dictated by instant gratification dispensed at lighting speed, remember that you too are often burning out trying to please someone else. Sometimes personal experience is the only teacher. Humility is a beautiful virtue, and it is not a respecter of persons.

God bless you. Feel free to follow me on Google+. I do a lot of micro-blogging there.

Warm wishes,

Allison K.

Ma & Me 2013

Ma & Me 2013, Christmas Eve.

We’ve heard it said time and again, especially at this time of year: “Change is inevitable.” This is an infallible truth. However, what I do not hear much about is adjustment. We on the spectrum are not immune, but generally do not adapt as easily or well as our non-autistic peers.

I am a case in point. Very suddenly, my mom developed a chronic lung illness in 2004. She began to cough up blood and I had to be strong for her, calling 911, navigating the rapid mental processing of answering questions quickly while under extreme stress. She recovered to a degree with medication, but was re-admitted over the years. By 2011, it was apparent that she just would not be the strong person I knew and loved for 30 years.

Progressively, she was not able to garden, walk for long periods of time or go out to our quiet “haunts” (safe places where we could have fun). She went on oxygen and attended a bridal shower, where she caught a virus from someone. Bigger change yet was to follow. She lost a dangerous amount of weight. Hospitalizations. Loss of mobility. Most recently, loss of persona.

My mom has been my all (since 1994 after my dad passed). She has been mother, advocate and friend.

To say I’ve been slammed with one change after another since my dad’s sudden death 20 years ago is truly an understatement. Most non-spectrum people would probably (I am assuming here) look back and wonder how they made it through. As my mom once said, “We should write a book, but nobody would believe what we wrote.”

Dealing with her declining health is emotionally exhausting. Dealing with being “on call” from 2pm-11pm is an additional stressor. She can now be quite demanding and childlike (a normal result given the fact her brain is not processing as it did even 4 months ago.

Emotional roller-coasters are another factor. 4 ½ months ago, though weak, her mind was still strong. She drove me to my therapist. She required a lot of assistance getting out of the car and into the building, but she did it. I was so happy for her. Then she took another nosedive around Christmas-time.

Instead of hoping for driving, I will take just having her make it across the room without gasping and having to hold on to the furniture or another person.

I now personally understand what it is like to see a relatively healthy person suddenly regress beyond a reasonable and acceptable point. I know what it is like to fight as much as I can to find answers. I know it is not up to me, ultimately.

I will be an orphan one day, someday soon. An adult left to navigate life on her own.  “Dealing” with people, versus relating to them as they may be educated but apathetic to autism-related behaviors. You can pay for a companion, but you can’t pay someone to love you. Love can’t be bought. Love must be earned.

I am blessed to have one aunt who contains traces of my mother, plus her own bubbly, outgoing personality. Another woman (who is my honorary aunt) lives far from me, but the phone does work.

I must remember that this illness is affecting my whole family. I try in little ways to let them know I care (little notes, e-mails and pithy compliments).  I wish I could say that from family, first responders and society in general that the love was returned. I can’t.

The Bible says that a person is hated by the world for following Christ. Ain’t it the truth.  The world did not recognize the Light. It tried to put Him out. The good news is that it has not succeeded and never will. I just hope I can follow his example until my time comes. Isn’t that the best any of us can hope for?

Some quotes:

“Owner of a lonely heart, much better than an owner of a broken heart.”-Yes

“Look for the silver lining and find the sunny side of life.”-Chet Baker

“In God have I put my trust and confident reliance; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me? Psalm 56:11.

He can beat me, attack me, chastise me, persecute me and bully me, but I’m still going to heaven when I die!


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