We are writing to you on behalf of our son, Adam Vaillancourt, who is 13 years old and has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism. In Adam’s day-to-day life he faces many challenges, most having to do with his inability to “read” and interpret social cues. Asperger’s manifests itself in many different ways, most often causing him to experience a very high level of anxiety.
Adam attends a special education school in Chelmsford, which services children who have similar diagnoses and challenges. On his way to school recently, another child verbally threatened Adam, saying that he was going to “kill” Adam and his family, and he was planning to do it on “Saturday,” three days from the time the threat was made.
This threat sent Adam’s anxiety into overdrive, so to speak, and at times like this he can become quite irrational. He became hyper-focused on the need to “call 911,” because in his way of thinking, this was an emergency.
(In the past he has followed through with calling 911 for reasons such as: Being unable to find something he was looking for, being upset with his parents, etc. In his mind these are all “emergencies” and when there is an emergency, he was taught to “call 911.”)
We have had many discussions with Adam to try to help him differentiate between “real emergencies” and scenarios which, although upsetting to him, are not truly ones in which the police are needed. On this day, though, Adam was convinced that the police were the only ones who would be able to keep us safe. Luckily for us, Officer James Marchand is a neighbor of ours.
I was finally able to compromise with Adam, telling him that we would go over to Jim’s home and, if he was available, discuss the situation with him. Up until this particular day, Jim was someone we knew as a familiar face in the neighborhood as well as a local police officer. Also, as one of the nurses at the local high school, he is someone I deal with on a professional basis.
Jim was somewhat aware of Adam’s condition and, with Adam anxiously waiting in the car, I explained to him the reason for our unexpected visit. He then proceeded to sit down with our son and speak to him “man to man” and police officer to terrified child. He asked about the events that had occurred and Adam, who usually takes a lot of time to “warm up” to people he is unfamiliar with, felt comfortable enough to discuss the situation.
Throughout this discussion, Jim’s calm demeanor and reassurance that the situation was being taken very seriously seemed to put Adam at ease, which is not an easy task (even on a good day). Jim let Adam know that he was scheduled to work that Saturday, and he would be sure to “keep an eye” on the neighborhood and our house specifically during his patrol. At the conclusion of the conversation, Adam was relieved, to say the least. The “weight of the world” had been lifted from his shoulders and he was able to attend to his usual evening routine.
I am sure there are many citizens who are more than eager to voice their complaints when they are unhappy with police officers and the police department in general. We think it’s important to compliment those who do their jobs well on a daily basis, and to especially thank those who go “above and beyond” as Officer James Marchand did for us — on his day off, no less. He found the time to ease the mind of a very upset boy. As parents we recognize the term “public servant” doesn’t begin to describe the difference he made that day.
With sincere thanks,
LYNN & DAVID VAILLANCOURT