Sunday, July 9, 2017

#AutisticWhileBlack: Saving Mr. Reginald Cornelius Neli Latson

Image of a framed photo of handsome young African-American Autistic male in a white t-shirt and plaid shirt, smiling at
the camera. the photo is cradled in the hands of his mother. Photo of Neli Latson, credit Washington Post
Some Autism organizations have gained mileage, prestige, status, and accolades from the suffering of young Mr. Reginald Cornelius 'Neli' Latson. Although I silently witnessed a great many self-congratulatory pats on one another's backs in the aftermath of Governor Terry McAuliffe's conditional pardon,  I continue to remind myself each day that while everyone else has moved on to the next national headline, Neli Latson is in the mental health institutional equivalent of a prison, a particular institution with a long history of abuse without proper accountability when he should never have been placed in any prison at all.

We, the community who should be following up his case, who should be demanding a less restrictive environment and pushing for a plan of Trauma Informed Care, have benefitted from his tragedy, abandoned him to his fate, and moved on.

It is only a cruel twist of fate that Arnaldo Rios Soto, whose only misfortune was being the witness to the police shooting his trusted support staff member while that Black professional lay flat on the ground with his hands up, is also now housed in the same inappropriate facility in Florida. Are the only autistic lives that matter those that make the evening news?

If Neli was your son, would you forget him in some psychiatric hell hole after he suffered years of being restrained, pepper sprayed, shot with a Taser, bound in a restraint chair for hours, placed in solitary confinement, and criminalized all for having a mental health crisis during a catastrophic encounter with a police officer.?

The truth of the matter is particularly now, with an Attorney General more interested in reversing the previous administration's criminal justice efforts than taking any human rights violation cases to trial, any autistic child, teen or adult, can end up in Neli's situation, regardless of race. It may happen more frequently to nonwhite families, but these injustices will surely arrive at every home. Like Edgar Allen Poe's Red Death, this type of injustice eventually comes for all.

Do you wish to save Neli Latson? Imagine he's your son and make him matter! Ask Autism and disability organizations why they have not followed up on his case. Ask if Neli is being treated for the trauma induced by putting him in solitary confinement, an act that is considered a form a torture and causes permanent harm to especially the brains of children and teenagers. Demand that organizations follow up on all cases like Neli's and give members updates on whether Trauma Informed Care is part of a recovery plan for Neli, Arnaldo, and others like them. Lobby for Trauma Informed Care to be the standard of care in every institutional setting and group home in your state.

Our community organizations should be following up on every case like Neli's. If they aren't, how can they say they are advocating for our children?

What is Trauma Informed Care?
Per Kenneth Huckshorn and JaniceLebel, "Trauma informed care is grounded in and directed by a thorough understanding of the neurological, biological, psychological, and social effects of trauma and the prevalence of these experiences in persons who seek and receive mental health service."  I first heard of this from an activist friend and colleague, Savannah Nicole Logsdon-Breakstone, who blogs on MH, DD, ASD, and Disability Advocacy on Crack Mirror In Shalott. Savannah also referred me to her mother, who trained in Trauma Informed Care. TIC is something everyone in the Autism community should know about and champion. Here is a short introduction, quoting Alameda County's Trauma Specific Interventions page:

Trauma informed care is about creating a culture built on six core principles:
1. Trauma Understanding: through knowledge and understanding trauma and stress we can act compassionately and take well-informed steps towards wellness.
2. Safety & Security: increasing stability in our daily lives and having core physical and emotional safety needs met can minimize our stress reactions and allow us to focus our resources on wellness.
3. Cultural Humility & Responsiveness – when we are open to understanding cultural differences and respond to them sensitively, we make each other feel understood and wellness is enhanced.
4. Compassion & Dependability – when we experience compassionate and dependable relationships, we re-establish trusting connections with others that fosters mutual wellness.
5. Collaboration& Empowerment – when we are prepared for and given real opportunities to make choices for ourselves and our care, we feel empowered and can promote our own wellness.
6. Resilience & Recovery – when we focus on our strengths and clear steps we can take toward wellness, we are more likely to be resilient and recover.
Our community does not have Trauma informed care models specifically for trauma commonly suffered by autistic children and adults. No one has developed one specifically for autistics and the tragedy of this is the lack of said models result in institutional settings like the Judge Rotenberg Center further traumatizing autistic youth they are supposed to be helping.  The difference between having Trauma informed care systems and not having them, again from Alameda County's excellent page on this:

Systems without Trauma Sensitivity

Misuse or overuse displays of power – keys, security, etc.
Higher rates of staff turnover and low morale
Disempowering and devaluing consumers
Consumers are labeled and pathologized
Focused on what’s wrong with you

Systems with Trauma Informed Care

Recognition that coercive interventions cause trauma and re-traumatization
Awareness/training on re-traumatization and vicarious trauma
Value consumer voice in all aspects of care
All inclusive of survivor’s perspective and recognition of person as a whole
Focus on what has happened to you

The supposed goal of any mental institution is healing. If a place like the JRC and Neli's present placement in an AdvoServ facility are using methods that are effective, then those housed there would improve, and there would be a constant movement to less restrictive environments. This is not the case, and client abuse, high staff turnover, and patients housed for years with no improvement are the reality. So something is not working, and that means better, more humane, more inclusive methods of healing trauma must happen.

Please speak up and step up. Start emailing and calling organizations and reaching out to Neli's family. Don't forget him because the media has and he is now used as a symbolic object to show proof of success in advocacy.

I haven't.

Save Mr. Reginald Corneliaus Neli Latson, #AutisticWhileBlack.  #FreeNeli. Give him back what quality of life he has left.

He could be your son.

The Story of Neli Latson:

On the horrors of Solitary Confinement:

Unjust Incarceration and Solitary Confinement While Black:
On Trauma Informed Care:

Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone's Blog

On Abusive Institutional Methods - The Judge Rotenberg Center

Via Shain Neumeier, esq & AutisticHoya
S.Neumeier via ASAN:
S. Neumeier
S. Neumeier
For Your Own Good: Coercive Care In the Lives of Marginalized People
NBC News

On Abuses In AdvoServ Centers in Florida and Maryland

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