Autism Training for Law Enforcement Officers | AAPC Publishing

Posted by Dr. Nihan on Aug 11th 2022


When law enforcement officer encounters someone with autism, they may not know how to communicate or interact with them appropriately . This can lead to misunderstandings and dangerous situations. To help prevent this, officers need to receive training on how to handle interactions with people who have autism. This training can help officers understand the disorder, communicate effectively with autistic individuals, and identify potential red flags.

Spectrum News posted the article “ Why autism training for police isn’t enough” two years ago. It had an intro about Catrina Thompson and her 16-year-old son Christopher who live in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Thompson is a police officer herself, so she knows how harmful the interactions can be between officers and individuals on the spectrum. However, as a mom, she can feel confident in her hometown with his son with autism spectrum. Still, she also has concerns about traveling to other states. Unfortunately, as summarized in the article, many incidents were reported between police officers and individuals with autism.

Unfortunately, when we check the records even on Google, there is a long list showing law enforcement involved in the cases of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. And unfortunately, most of them resulted in tragedies.

In the United States, while some departments offer formal training for law enforcement, some only give short video clips or presentations. However, proper training about autism requires long training hours and expert trainers. On the other hand, in some places, the officers are trained by local parents acting as instructors with no credentials! On the other hand, mostly the takeaway lessons from autism training are — to be patient, don’t touch people if not necessary, and speak in a low voice. And these may conflict with other more foundational skills officers receive, such as being authoritative or using physical force during high-stress situations. Also, the training alone will not prevent violent police encounters - especially when underlying racism and ableism go unaddressed.

In 2020, the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders published “ Law Enforcement Officers’ Preparation for Calls Involving Autism: Prior Experiences and Response to Training .” A total of 157 law enforcement officers participated in the autism spectrum disorder-specific training study and completed the autism knowledge, self-confidence, and self-monitoring surveys before and after exercise. This study indicated that 20% of the calls involving people with autism spectrum disorder resulted in involuntary psychiatric hospitalization in 2019. And the training increased the positive outcomes for law enforcement, such as knowledge and self-confidence. In addition, this article notes that female officers’ self-confidence increased significantly more than male law enforcement officers.

Karlie A. Hinkle and Dorothea C. Lerman have used simulations in their research “ Preparing Law Enforcement Officers to Engage Successfully with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: An Evaluation of a Performance-Based Approach ” in 2021. The simulations were with actors to evaluate the performance-based instruction on strategies to promote compliance when law enforcement officers respond to calls of individuals with autism spectrum disorders. The results showed that the hands-on training should supplement commonly used forms of didactic instructions.

Last week, on August 4th, 2022, another scientific article was published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders. Melissa A.

Sreckovic, Christine K. Kenney, and Matthew Wallace have conducted research on “ Autism Training for Law Enforcement Officers: A Scoping Review .” We all know that law enforcement officers face split-second decisions that can mean the difference between life and death. So naturally, they need to react quickly. Still, they also must understand autism spectrum disorders to not cause an officer more trouble than necessary when interacting with someone under these conditions.

In the wake of so many tragic shootings of unarmed civilians, autistic parents are calling for more training for law enforcement officers on interacting with people with autism. They believe these tragedies could be averted if officers were better educated about communicating with autistic individuals and understanding their disorders.

What do you think? Do you think officers should receive training on identifying red flags or specific ways to communicate with autistic individuals? Let us know in the comments below.

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