Research has shown that 20% of those diagnosed with autism have had contact with law enforcement at one time or another. Because police agencies are not trained well enough in how to service those on the spectrum it is the shared responsibility of the family unit of the child to prepare them for police encounters. Some behaviors associated with the fear of a police encounter can be misunderstood by police officers and be misread as suspicious behavior. To keep our children safe and interactions from becoming violent or fatal we must train both sides to promote success.
I’m a 20 year veteran of a large police agency. I dedicated fifteen (15) of those years training police officers in use of force, police tactics and cultural diversity. In response to the increased violence in the past few years involving police officers and citizens I developed a program (De-escalating Officer Patrol Encounters – D.O.P.E. ) dedicated to providing solutions for both involved in police encounters (officer and citizen) can go home alive.
I am also an uncle of a 15-year old who was diagnosed with Autism as an infant. He has come a long way and progressed to the point socially that his parents allow him to walk one mile alone daily to a neighborhood diner for lunch. Although he has not had contact with police officers to date, I felt the need to educate him on how to interact with them as he still has behaviors that he can’t control when he is afraid or is startled. As a former police officer I know these physical and social challenges may seem like suspicious behavior to an untrained officer in the area of citizens on the spectrum. After training my own nephew I realized the importance of getting this information to others on the spectrum to help them have positive encounters with law enforcement if they were ever stopped while driving or traveling anywhere on foot.
I contacted the one expert that has helped my nephew for the past 13 years of his development that could assist in developing a program for autistic children. She is Dr. Pamela Wiley of Speak LA who has over 35 years of experience with these children and thousands of success stories associated with her existing programs. These programs fall under two amazing organizations which are The Wiley Center for Speech and Development and The Los Angeles Speech and Language Therapy Center, Inc. We put our heads together and created a training program known as “The Spectrum Shield”. It is specialized one-on-one training in two types of encounters; traffic stops and “Stop & Frisk” situations.
The program allows up to twelve young people to share time at a ranch for the weekend interacting with a police officer in a social setting between direct training in the areas mentioned above. This will provide the children time to ask questions related to police and law enforcement that they may have been afraid to ask, give them true understanding of how police officers act and why and ease the natural anxiety that one has dealing with officers. The goal of the program is to place the children in the situations and identify the individual’s specific social or physical responses to the encounter that would alarm or make the officer concerned. The child will be shown how to communicate with the officer to assist in moving towards a positive resolution of the encounter. They will also be provided a “How to” video showing a proper traffic stop encounter and a workbook they can take with them that lays out the same. These resources can be used by the individuals and their parents to help the child remember what they are supposed to do. I am excited about this program and look forward to teaching children on the spectrum how to be safe when dealing with police officers.