This weekend, I read a story with both sadness and interest. It could be my story, or someone else’s story on the older and higher end of the autism spectrum. Daniel Jason is a young man in his twenties. He graduated college early from Illinois State University. Using a couple thousand dollars from bar mitzvah money, Daniel successfully traded online, making $120,000 toward grad school. Daniel Jason is intellectually ahead of himself. Emotionally, he is way behind. Arrested in 2007 after repeatedly violating orders of protection from his former girlfriend, sending obscene messages via the internet and sending a drawing to his lawyer of a stick figure with a gun and the message “R.I.P.” The last action warranted a federal conviction.
When Daniel would act out, it would be verbally or include the internet. It turned to stalking behavior when his relationship with his girlfriend ended.
“Daniel threatens violence, but isn’t violent”, say his parents.
This is someone who should be in a long-term psychiatric hospital, not in prison. We have fewer than 100,000 beds nationwide compared to 550,000 in the 1950’s.
With the money the country saved, “it didn’t move that money into other treatments,” Pavle says.
“What confounds me is… the comfort level that we in this society have with the incarceration of people with mental illnesses,” says James Pavle, executive director of the Treatment Advocacy Center, a not-for-profit group.
This is from the original article “Man with mental illness goes from grad school to prison” by Burt Constable in the Daily Herald 9/25/11 edition, front page.
Now, let’s go back to 1998. I was about to attend an open mike night in a bookstore in the Chicago Northwest Suburbs. I was to read my work that evening. I even called before coming to make sure there were enough performers scheduled in case people had cancelled last-minute. Schedule and routine are paramount to me as they are to many with autism. When there is an unexpected change, it literally takes my breath away. After getting there, I was snapped at by the manager that the open mike night was cancelled. I took this as both lying and, obviously, YELLING! Looking back, I still see the guy as rude and ignorant, not knowing his head from a hole in the ground as far as how to interpret a schedule. I pale when I see myself, not thinking, but lobbing a canvas painting (I had brought along as a visual aide for my reading) directly at his head. It connected with its intended target. The manager said he was going to call the police. I remember mouthing to him that I would be long gone by that time and what he could go and do with that painting. I walked, I did not run (for that is what cowards do when bullied, I thought) to the parking lot where my mom had just parked. I told her to start the car, briefed her on what happened, and we drove home. But I could not let it end there. And that is where I sympathize (not condone) with Jason.
There is something with the way some people with Asperger’s obsess over details that can either help or hinder them. Jason’s and my obsession of being livid to the point of not being able to let go-days after the event, still being every bit as angry as the moment the incident happened and not having proper awareness or treatment to make the burden worse on both individual and family life is what lead to trouble.
The only difference with me, why I’m not in jail myself after mailing hateful material to the bookstore (a felony because I used a Federal service – as Jason did- to take out my anger), is that my mom was able to find an attorney through my then psychiatrist. Even though I had not yet been diagnosed with autism, my therapist did know a lawyer who knew how to defend people who were mentally ill.
autism isn’t a mental illness, this we know. But its symptoms often bring forth issues that land one in a therapist’s office, at least. Meltdowns where physical violence (not premeditated hatred, but a response to overloaded senses or environment) is present, depression and thoughts of suicide or attempted suicidal behavior (say over being bullied at school for being “different”, having no friends, understanding that one’s life will be more of a compromise than most). Medication for anxiety, depression and the stabilization of mood also are common. What is all too common is the growing incarceration rate among the mentally ill population, a population, at least for now, that includes autism. It is 16%. Many experts think that number is too low.
Daniel Jason’s parents tried to get him help when he was suspended from grad school. They write continuously to prosecutors and judges. Daniel’s dad hasn’t hugged his son since 2007.
Imagine as a parent not being allowed to touch your child for 4 years.
“We are begging you, from the bottom of our hearts to please give him a chance to improve and build a life for himself.” they write.
“You think if you love that child, it’s enough. But it’s not, because it’s in their brain.”
That could be my mom making the same plea to you, the public, now. I am trying to do my part by sharing Jason’s story and mine in the hopes of bringing more awareness to the forgotten children of autism. If you are in a position of power to help this young man and his family, please go to
or e-mail columnist Burt Constable of the Daily Herald:
Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, IL
Burt Constable, columnist, Daily Herald