Anchorage father with autistic son calls for police training to approach special needs individuals
Bill Blanas says he’s still in shock after seeing the video that shows Kodiak police restraining and pepper spraying a 29-year-old man with autism.
“That poor boy was traumatized, traumatized,” said Blanas of Nick Pletnikoff, the man in the video. “I mean, he kept saying, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry’ — he didn’t know what he’d done wrong.”
One chilling thought Blanas said he had after watching the video is that it could’ve been his son, Jake, who also has autism and is just a few years younger than Pletnikoff. Depending on the circumstances, it would be easy to mistake his 23-year-old son for someone who doesn’t have special needs.
“If you look at him now, you know, you can kind of tell there’s something a little bit off about him,” Blanas said of his son. “But sometimes, when you put a hoodie on him, he looks just like a normal, everyday individual.”
Blanas said parents whose children are on the autistic spectrum often have to leave the house with a plan; his is a pocketful of candy.
“If he acts up or something, I know I can get him to do certain things for his candies,” said Blanas. “Sit down, calm down, take a breath.”
Jake has the cognitive ability of a toddler, but physically, “he’s big, imposing and a rather athletic young man who has a lot of energy and the type of aggression that young men get, you know, that he needs to work off,” Blanas noted.
Most importantly, Jake is human, Blanas said — meaning sometimes, things upset him.
“He reacts in the only way he knows how — he bites himself, he hits his head, he jumps up and down, he yells,” he said. “He looks violent, but he’s never, ever hurt anyone except himself.”
After having conversations with both police officers and people in the community, Blanas said he’s gathered plenty of proof that more awareness about autism is needed. He said what most people see is the “happy, bubbly side of autism” — like the autistic savants of the world.
“Because that’s what people see on TV,” said Blanas. “They don’t understand the rest of it.”
Police and other first responders coming into contact with someone with special needs will happen eventually, as evident by the video from Kodiak, said Blanas. He’d like law enforcement around Alaska to be armed with knowledge.
“I think the law enforcement and these responders, they really need to be trained on what autism looks like, what to expect and how to communicate with autistic individuals,” he said.
He said the training is necessary — to avoid a repeat of Kodiak.
“Now that poor boy associates uniform and law enforcement with pain and torture,” said Blanas of Pletnikoff, adding that he hopes it’s something his son never has to experience.
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