In Salt Lake City, Utah, the rate of autism diagnosis is 1 in every 54 children while nationally that number is 1 in 68. Also about 49 percent of children on the spectrum in the state are prone to wandering off, so law enforcement has a a lot of interaction with them. In recent incidents where law enforcement did not know an adolescent was autistic, there was miscommunication that made the situation more challenging than it needed to be.
“If we can have preparation before we get there, we can much better serve what is a very unique and important segment of our community. if i knew what I was responding and it said the individual that we’re dealing with has a special need, I’d treat it differently,” says Sheriff of Salt Lake County, Jim Winder. Usually police officers are trained to use force and harsh commands to get a situation under control, however in dealing with an autistic person it would be more helpful to remain calm and to give the person more space than they would usually. When this policy was implemented by correctional officers, their use of force was actually decreased by 70 percent. “You have to have de-escalation skills. You just have to learn how to deal with those people on a different level,” a member of the Crisis Intervention Team explains.
Now parents and caregivers can register their autistic child so that their information and needs are documented in a database that police can access when responding to situations with people on the spectrum. It helps both the police force and everyone in the autism community to appropriately address the safety concerns for people on the spectrum. Law enforcement states that the new roster has helped reduce a lot of high stress situations by giving the officers information they can use if a person is having a meltdown or behaving in a way officers are not used to dealing with. Preparation is an important step to take for safety in autistic communities in every state and an important step in providing autism awareness for everyone.