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Parenting Impossible – The Special Needs Survival Podcast

Jul 28, 2021

Being stopped by or questioned by the police can be stressful for anyone but for those who are mentally ill or developmentally disabled, it can be quite traumatic. Often these traumatic situations can trigger certain responses in a mentally disabled individual which can escalate into violence or other extreme matters, causing them to be unfairly accused/charged or labeled due to their illness or disability. 


In this podcast episode, Annette speaks with Attorney Jason Chan, a criminal law attorney and partner in the firm Seed, Chan and Associates in Boston, about how individuals who are mentally ill and developmentally disabled are often treated and charged unfairly within the criminal justice system.


The main problem area Attorney Chan notes is usually with law enforcement or first responders as they generally have the first contact with the disabled individual.  There seems to be a lack of training and understanding for first responders as they don’t have specific mental disability instruction.  First responders are often only given very basic information about the situation they are heading into and are generally not aware of how to recognize danger zones and triggers for certain mental illnesses and disabilities.  This can at times lead to very dangerous situations. Training is highly needed for first responders but unfortunately there in no universal training course or guidelines. Difficulties also lie around who would be capable of instructing a training course and with so many different kinds of mental illness and disabilities, how can you train a first responder to recognize all the signs and the care needed for each.


Restraining orders can cause issues as well.  Some individuals that have mental illness or developmental disabilities don’t understand or deal with certain social situations well and can be misunderstood by roommates, those they work with or even romantic partners. Restraining orders can be devasting to a mentally disabled individual.  It does not necessarily mean they did something criminally wrong, but now that there is a restraining order tied to their name, it can preclude them from certain disability programs and housing situations once a background check is run.


Traffic stops can also lead to stressful situations where a mentally disabled person could panic and either want to flee the scene to the safety of their home or they may want to get out of the vehicle to speak with the police officer.  These types of reactions can escalate an already stressful situation with law enforcement.  Attorney Chan recommends that parents and/or caregivers coach their children ahead of time, in the event they are pulled over by law enforcement at some point.  Make sure the mentally disabled individual understands that police are there to help and likely there is nothing they have really done wrong.


Another situation that can lead to issues lies with college age students.  Generally, around the age of 17 or 18 is when and individual’s mental health issues may arise, and they may have their first psychotic break.  The stress of being away from home, a new state, a new environment, the pressure and demands of school work and maintaining grades can cause anxiety overload.  They may feel they are isolated, have no family support and may withdraw from everyone and everything. The individual may eventually end up in the hospital but as they are now over 18 and are considered adults, parents are not notified and are not able to make any legal decisions for them.  Attorney Chan recommends parents complete some estate planning documents before their child leaves for college including a Power of Attorney and a Health Care Proxy.  Once a child turns 18, they are considered an “adult” and parents no longer have any authority over them or can make decisions for them if they are deemed incompetent.  


As a closing note, Attorney Chan recommends that parents and caregivers pass along their knowledge to others.  Make sure their mentally ill or developmentally disabled child is known in the community and others know what that child’s triggers may be.  Attorney Chan also recommends advocating with elected officials for training programs for better understanding of those with mental health issues and developmental disabilities.  Knowledge and training may help diffuse a situation before it becomes a larger issue.  


If you would like to follow or reach out to Attorney Chan, you may find him at Seed, Chan and Associates and on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.  Attorney Chan also hosts his own legal podcast which can be found HERE 

For information on other topics, please also check out Special Needs Companies. For legal advice, inspiration, and other resources, visit our blog here. Similarly, you can always listen to previous podcast episodes (and be sure to leave us a review), or download our free eBook here. We are always looking for podcast guests as well so please let us know if you or someone you know, has a special needs or disability topic you would like to speak about - Contact Us! 

You can also join our free Facebook group for the disability community, the “Circle of Care,” or watch the webinars and other speaking events on YouTube. The purpose of this community is to create a space for people to be themselves, ask questions and get support and answers, so please share these resources with your friends! 

Annette Hines has been practicing in the areas of Special Needs, Elder Law, and Estate Planning for more than 20 years. Ms. Hines brings personal experience with special needs to her practice and podcasts as the mother of two daughters, one of whom passed away from Mitochondrial disease in November 2013. This deep, personal understanding of special needs fuels her passion for quality special needs planning and drives her dedication to help others within the special needs community.