When will we finally recognize autism for what it is and help incorporate those with it into society? When will we implement a system to treat and understand autism rather than avoid it? When will we give individuals with autism a chance? It needs to start now. It is estimated that approximately 1.5 million people in the U.S. have autism. Darius McCollum is one of these people. He is a New York City man who has been taking trains and buses on unauthorized joy rides for decades. Darius is currently fighting to stay out of a mental institution and has testified about his unique fixation. This case requires empathy and understanding, not punishment.
“I’m just a train buff, that’s all there is to it,” Darius says. He has been arrested over 30 times for impersonating transit operators. He also claimed to have driven subway trains and buses (sometimes with passengers) thousands of times. To be more specific, Darius stated his acquisition (sometimes with help from the crew) of about 5,000 subway trains and 4,000 buses. Darius’ testimony, when asked what interested him about trains, was, “The wheels go round and round,” and he said the same for buses. This was the first time he explained himself in court.
Sally Butler, Darius’ attorney, is working her hardest to keep him out of a mental institution. According to Butler, “It just houses the worst of the worst, and there are so many more options. People that have autism don’t belong locked up in those locations.” Butler was the one who informed the court that Darius has autism and that he has never received proper treatment. She is requesting for him to be sent to a halfway house for help. Butler says, “There’s so many services you get that he’s never had.”
Suzanne Reek, Executive Director of the Nassau/Suffolk Autism Society of America, states, “I am amazed at his brilliant mind and innovative methods to have access to his passion. More than 80 percent of adults with autism are underemployed/unemployed. We need better resources to help lower this number. We can do better; we need to do better. Our government needs to use resources to help train, support, educate and employ adults with autism. Individuals with autism can contribute to society if they are given the tools and a chance.”
Lisa Liberatore, Founder, and President of Luv Michael, a granola maker that employs young adults with autism, states, “Many of our employees have a love of trains and buses. One young man’s wish is to be an MTA bus driver, and he enjoys playing bus driving video games on his computer. Unfortunately, without a high school diploma and with such difficulty with socialization, people with autism have a 90% unemployment rate, the highest rate of unemployment of all disabilities. At Luv Michael, we realize that we needed to create a supportive environment to help our employees whom we call granologists succeed, that means, visual aids, lots of structure, clear expectations and demands, and awareness to minimize stressful situations in the workplace.”
Darius McCollum, as a child, was taught to operate trains and buses by transit workers. “They used to give me uniforms. They used to give me a vest and a flashlight,” he said. He even had a pin identifying him as a member of the TSA. Darius should be treated properly and fairly, not like a common criminal with malicious intent, and Sally Butler is advocating that he receive justice. Hopefully, a favorable decision will be made in court and Darius can continue to watch wheels go “round and round” for as long as he desires.