Sometimes a Coat Is Just a Coat, and Sometimes It Ruins a Kid’s Life

A black trench coat hangs on a mannequin against a light gray background
Photo by Housing Works Thrift Shops (CC BY 2.0).

For The Oregonian, Bethany Barnes takes an in-depth look at the experience of 16-year-old Sanders, an autistic high school student put through an extensive “threat assessment” (aka, “We think you might be the next school shooter”). Are threat assessments effective? What happens when the behaviors flagged for a threat assessment overlap the symptoms with totally separate physical or neurological issues?

It was easy to figure out why the teen’s attire worried people. Sanders’ signature piece of clothing was a big black trench coat.

Years ago, Mark gave Sanders the riding coat he picked up on a youthful adventure in Australia. Sanders loved the weight of the coat. As a person on the autism spectrum, he welcomed the heaviness. It provided comfort in a world that often overwhelmed him. He wore it no matter the weather. With pride, he would note that when it gets above 85 degrees, it will be 104 degrees inside the coat, a fact he learned in science class. He was so associated with the coat that one time he didn’t wear it, he was marked absent by mistake. Sanders eventually wore out Mark’s old coat and his grandma got him a new one for Christmas.

Now, what had begun as a beloved hand-me-down, an armor that made Sanders feel secure and protected from the world, made him vulnerable.

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