A Message from Dr. Wyayn Rasmussen, Executive Directorblank

I hold first responders in high regard. My sister is an EMT in Minnesota, my niece is a police officer in Utah, and my cousin just retired after serving thirty-five years as a police officer in Texas. I know they are good people. I know the work they do is immeasurably important.

At the same time, I know my heart aches when I think about the recent shooting of Linden Cameron, a 13-year-old boy with Aspergers in Salt Lake City. Linden was experiencing a mental health crisis when his mom needed to leave for work. Linden could not regulate his emotions, and his mom could not help him. At a loss, Linden’s mom called the police. She explained that her son was screaming, but unarmed. She asked for their help. When they arrived, they ordered Linden to lay on the ground. When he was not able to comply, they shot him.

My heart aches for the murder of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old man with autism in a Denver suburb last August. It was a case of mistaken identity. Elijah told the police that he was an introvert and that he was different. In truth, he had autism and couldn’t figure out why the police were trying to arrest him. He died of a heart attack when a paramedic administered ketamine.

I know that I am tired of the heartache. I am tired of the anguish. Linden’s story, Elijah’s story, and the story of so many others could have ended differently. They should have ended differently.

At Academy of Whole Learning, we emphasize “regulation before education.” This means we help our students learn which de-escalation strategies work for them. We never want our students to be in a position where they are dependent on someone else’s knowledge of their de-escalation needs.

At the same time, we understand that our children and young adults with neurodiversities should not bear this burden alone. We need to help our first responders. We know they are good people. And yet stories like Linden and Elijah’s remind us that more education is necessary. We cannot change the stories that have already ended, but–with a commitment to education–we can make our communities a safer place.