An Arizona mother is charged with the murder of her two children, at least one of whom was autistic. A Michigan mother’s failed murder-suicide has led to charges of attempted murder of her autistic daughter. These and other tragic cases make it clear to us that both parents and autistics are in need of supports when they are in crisis.

It’s important for a parent who feels she can’t handle a dangerous situation with a child—or who is so distraught that she is thinking of harming her children—to know that there are other options for getting help beyond involving the police with a 911 call. These are resources you might want to investigate when you are not in a crisis situation; sometimes, just knowing you’re prepared with a back-up plan is enough to make you feel in control during difficult situations

Mobile crisis units

A mobile crisis team is made up of mental health professionals such as psychiatrists, psychologists, nurses, and social workers who can come to the home to provide a range of services to anyone who is experiencing, or is at risk of, a psychological crisis. What can they do? Emergency mental health assessment, crisis intervention, supportive counseling, information and referrals, links to community-based mental health services for ongoing treatment, and follow-up. Run by voluntary agencies and municipal hospitals, the teams may arrange transportation to an emergency room if it’s deemed necessary. They will also call the police if the individual in crisis will not go to the hospital willingly and meets specified legal criteria. New York City residents can learn more about this program; crisis units in other areas may be found via a search engine.

Medicaid waiver providers

If children and teens are covered under a Medicaid waiver, a parent in crisis may check with her service coordinator to see if temporary emergency shelter is available for the children until she can get the support she needs and the home stabilizes.

Private ambulance companies

If parents feel the crisis merits calling 911 but don’t believe the police need to be involved, there is another option: a private ambulance company. This also allows parents to specify the emergency room they wish to go to, which is not the case when EMS is called. Parents may want to ask treating clinicians and other parents which pediatric mental health ER in their area has the best record in dealing with crises situations.

Autistic advocate Paula Durbin-Westby has also compiled Emergency Information: Autism Resources for both parents who feel they may harm their child and autistics who feel endangered. It includes information on such organizations as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the Autism Women’s Network.