|Posted by firstname.lastname@example.org on December 1, 2016 at 2:20 AM|
I can write this article and fill it with stats, facts and trends on why there is a need for autism training within the public safety world. The truth is however I have found my greatest success in teaching police officers for the last fifteen years is to just be honest and blunt. Police officers are expected to know everything and how to handle every situation. If they fail, their failure is blasted on social media, the news and throughout society. When I ask you how much training you or your department have had in dealing with persons with autism, the blunt and honest answer is probably little or likely none.
Autism is not mental illness. It is more than a thirty minute (or less) section in a CIT or mental illness training. Autism is something I have lived with for the last fourteen years, and yet I still don’t know everything. Even with being considered one of the “experts” in the field, there is much I do not know.
So how can we then expect our police officers to know how to handle calls involving persons with autism with little to no training when even the “experts” find ways they can approve? The answer is simple we need more training.
Autism is still the fastest growing developmental disability in the world. Most law enforcement agencies have had or routinely have calls for service involving persons with autism. Currently 1 in 68 children have autism in the United States. Are we prepared for when those children become adults? Are we prepared to provide public safety services to that population?
I am proud of my profession when I can say “most” of the calls involving persons with autism are handled without incident. Has this become our standard? Why can’t we learn how to handle all of them better? Why can’t we learn what makes a person with autism do the things they do? Why can’t we learn about the spectrum, de-escalation, stemming, meltdowns and all other things that are common in the world of autism? It is well known that the more connected you are to a specific community, generally the better the police services will be within that community. This is true with the special needs community as well.
So with all that being said why don't we offer more training on autism? I have asked that question and I have heard several answers. I have heard, “Well something more pressing always comes up.” or the ever popular, “We have our autism situation under control.” Ask that to the countless police officers who have found themselves in use of force incidents that learned after the fact that the person they were dealing had a developmental disability. What about the police officer who responds to an elopement call involving a person with autism only to have it end with the death of a person they were sworn to protect? What about the police officer who responds to the call tomorrow and has no “real training”? What about the officer who responds but they don’t have 14 years’ experience and are not a parent of special needs child?
Sure they can do it the way we always do it. They can “wing it” and do the minimal needed with minimal training. Or we can make a stand and value our special needs population and our autism community and provide them the attention, training and respect they deserve as members of the communities we are sworn to protect.
When we have tragedies we often react to those situations search for training on how to prevent these tragedies from happening again. I was once told, “When you are reacting to a disaster it is too late to prepare.” I find that very fitting. With the recent tragedies of the elopement deaths of several children, the federal government has been working to enact federal requirements for the dealing and documenting of persons with autism in our communities by police. Should it really take that to make it happen?
I am positive that most police officers want to help and protect our vulnerable communities. I also know, from my own experience, if you lack knowledge about those communities it is difficult to properly provide law enforcement services to them. Cops don’t like to appear that we don’t know things. If you or your agency hasn’t had adequate in depth professional autism training, I would ask you to evaluate the reason why. More so are you going to do something about it?