Loyola University Medical Center

Safety Officers Get Creative to Calm Patient with Autism

The medication that was supposed calm down a 33-year-old Chicago man with autism had the opposite effect. Typically mild-mannered, he became aggressive toward his parents, prompting a hurried trip to Loyola University Medical Center.

When they arrived at the Maywood hospital, his mother expected the worst. Her son is 6-foot-3 and had bitten both parents during a paradoxical reaction to his medication in late December 2018. But, as the hospital’s safety officers surrounded her son, she watched them counter his aggressive behavior with creativity and calm. 

They played games with him, sang, danced, clapped and cheered him on—for two-and-a-half hours as Loyola physicians treated him.

“I’m scared to death and I’m bleeding,” the patient’s mother told a Chicago Tribune columnist about the experience. “I’m sitting there sadder than I’ve ever been in my life and I hear this game starting up.”

The game was a way to encourage the man to let the physicians take care of him. The officers cheered when the man got up, helped him sit back down, and prompted him to scoot back and lie down.

Sgt. Keith Miller, who has a 14-year-old autistic son, led the effort. Because of his experiences at home, Miller trains other officers on how to handle patients with autism without force. Miller told the Chicago Tribune that every patient with autism is different and requires an individualized response based on what officers can learn. In this particular case, it was when the man mentioned Mary Poppins that tipped off Miller.

“Right then and there, I knew how to deal with it,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “We started singing ‘Mr. Rogers.’ I did ‘Sesame Street’ voices…. Very few things were more important than [the patient].”

Weeks after this visit to Loyola, his mother shared the experience on social media. She said of the officers, “You can’t train that kind of spirit.”