With more autism diagnoses taking place nationwide, it is becoming increasingly more critical for all first-responders to be properly trained in assisting those on the spectrum. Police officers, for example, are beginning to experience more training on how to successfully interact with those with autism in order to best assist them in a time of crisis.
Pennsylvania, for instance, has recently enforced a new state law that mandates officers to learn about mental illnesses, autism, and other disorders, in order to recognize and manage a crisis. Luciana Randall, executive director of Autism Connection of PA states, “This law is probably going to save someone’s life. It will help officers do their job more safely. They don’t want to make a mistake.”
The new law requires officers to learn what services may be available when autistic individuals are in a state of crisis. Furthermore, it teaches officers how to best interact with those on the spectrum, such as speaking gently, avoiding sudden movements, accepting the fact that the individual may avoid answering questions, as well as be more patient and understanding.
Police Chief Todd Graeff states “We take training seriously, and if it’s a mandate, we’re going to make sure it happens.” He continues, “If police officers can help identify (a crisis) and prevent a tragedy, that’s a plus.”
In a state of crisis, anyone can become anxious, fearful, or irrational, but for those on the spectrum, the situation can truly be terrifying and too much to handle. Training will enable officers to properly de-escalate a situation and minimize the chance of meltdowns.
Sue Walther, executive director of Mental Health America PA, states, “Often times the interaction between police and someone with a mental illness or someone with autism escalates needlessly. If police understand what they are confronting, they may go about it in a different way.”
Moving forward, this mandate should serve as an ideal for all other states. It is essential for all first-responders to learn how to best communicate with those on the spectrum, enabling them to receive the utmost assistance and to prevent an escalated situation.