August 29, 2014

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Local law enforcement learns about dealing with autism PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, April 29, 2014 12:55 PM

By JIM LANGHAM • Progress Feature Writer

First of three-part series dealing with issues of autism including “Parents and family members dealing with autism” and “Autism and society.”

At a recent county seminar, local law enforcement officials were given information to assist them in dealing with those who have autistic tendencies.

Following the meeting, Paulding County Sheriff Jason Landers said that it was very helpful to be able to identify potential characteristics of those who are autistic as versus those who are noncompliant.

“After we met with Cathy (Ruiz, parent mentor, Western Buckeye Educational Service), we realized that there is a different way to look at certain situations,” observed Landers, who said his department was deeply impressed with the information they had been presented.

“If we have a noncompliant individual who is not following orders, there is a whole different approach that must be considered if the person is autistic,” said Landers. “It was mandatory for every officer and full-time staff person to go. The feedback we received was very different.

“A personal presenter gave us perspective of what someone who is autistic goes through in an apprehending situation,” added Landers.

Ruiz said that individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders and developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to come in contact with law enforcement than a member of the general population. She referred to one autistic individual who police arrested because they thought he was drunk, and he hadn’t disclosed his autism.

People who are autistic, said Ruiz, have a difficult time understanding and using language, relating to people, events and objects in the environment and dealing with sensory stimuli such as pain, hearing, smell and taste. They also bear the characteristic of repetitive behaviors.

They may also be nonverbal, have limited speech and difficulty expressing needs, if verbal, repeats verbatim words and phrases of others (echolalia), talk to themselves or no one in particular, have trouble with correct volume or intonation, avoidance of eye contact and flee from officers or violate other’s personal space.

Ruiz noted that autistic individuals may also become quickly upset with changes in routine, lack fear of real danger, are unable to report pain, avoid or be highly sensitive to touch and have sustained, repetitive actions such as rocking back and forth.

Other possible characteristics include covering their ears or eyes and looking away, displaying clumsiness, toe-walking or having difficulty running, displaying fascination with and attracted to water and being attracted to reflections and shiny objects.

Landers said that the safety training helped officers and himself have a deeper understanding of certain situations and responses.

Ruiz presented the sheriff department with a DVD for further training of how to react in meeting a person with autism.

“This DVD is designed to help officers to keep in mind how to react when they come into mind with an autistic individual,” said Ruiz.

Landers said that he plans to use the DVD for viewing and discussion with officers.