Posted by Kelley Prince, M.A., BCBA, President of Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay, Inc.
A recent article published in The Ledger describes an initative taken by Polk County Police officers to provide training to its staff on diffusing situations that involve individuals with autism. This is an intitative other law enforcement agencies have began to place a focus on since the most recent statistics show that 1 in 88 children have a diagnosis of an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
The full day training was provided by the Central Florida Autism Institute and had a target audience of school resource officers. The training included ways to approach and speak to an individual with autism while preventing an escalation in problem behaviors. Since many individuals with autism lack age-appropriate functional communication skills, speaking to them in shorter sentences would result in the best comprehension. In addition, sensory issues tend to accompany an autism diagosis which means some individuals are overly sensitive to touch. Therefore, it is recommended that law enforcement officers refrain from touching an individual who is suspected to have autism unless it is absolutely necessary.
Although the most common problem Polk county has indentified with it’s autism population is elopement, there are other cases across the country in which individuals with autism have been arrested for disorderly conduct, shoplifting, battery, and even murder. Elopement is a common problem for those with autism and a recent study supported this by identifying that over half of children diagnosed with autism wander or bolt from safe places. Many children with autism have difficulty identifying dangerous situations and tend to bolt toward preferred locations such as lakes or pools. To ensure your child with autism remains safe, it is suggested that children wear some form of identification on them such as an arm bracelet. The house should also be secured with locks that require a key to exit. Notifying your neighbors about your child’s condition is also recommended so that they can notify you if they see your child wandering the neighborhood.
Trainings like the one in Polk County are a great way to get police officers trained in the characteristics of autism and on how to diffuse problem behavior. With the number of individuals with autism on the rise, programs like Law Enforcement Awareness Network and Autism Alert are popping up in our communities to assist with this need. For more resources on law enforcement training for individuals with autism, please visit the Autism Speaks website at http://www.autismsafetyproject.org/site/c.kuIVKgMZIxF/b.5058445/k.8531/Law_Enforcement.htm.