A study published in February 2017 showed that nearly 20 percent of young people on the Autism spectrum have had a run-in with police by age 21, and about half of those by age 15. Some traits of people with ASD, from social anxiety, stimming, difficulty communicating and making eye contact, can resemble a police officer’s standard profile of a suspicious person. Add in the flashing lights, a loud siren or bullhorn, and it can be paralyzing for someone with autism, who may have extreme sensitivity to light, sound or touch.
Considering the behavioral misinterpretations of people who have ASD, we have a few recommendations for preparing your loved one with ASD for any possible future encounters. While we have done presentations to local law enforcement officers about engaging with a person who has ASD, and we can only hope other communities have as well, preparedness cannot hurt to go both ways.
Discuss The Job Duties of First Responders
An easy way to begin informing your loved one about law enforcement and first responders is to teach them their job duties. Having multiple conversations in this way can be proactive preparation.
Try repeatedly discussing the police/firemen’s indicating elements of their uniform (i.e navy attire with a silver badge) or vehicles (red truck) to pair with their duties. Making notecards for a matching game that identify the job function of the first responders could also be effective. Letting them know to not be wary but instead respectful could also be a good idea.
Taking your loved one to the actual police station or fire station would not just be a fun outing, but would also help solidify the memory of uniforms and vehicles of public servicemen in their mind.
If your loved one with ASD understands the duties of public servicemen and women, it can greatly minimize the confusion of why a person in uniform would be approaching them if that ever occurs.
Make an ASD Card
At Spectrum, we advocate making your child with ASD an identification card of sorts.
Notifications this card can include:
- Your loved one’s diagnosis
- His or her sensitivities
- A contact number for his or her Doctor
- A contact number for his or her legal guardians
- IEP accommodations (for school)
We omit the child’s name in case the card ever got lost. Nevertheless, this is a tactic we advise for students in school settings to carry and can be handy for public situations as well.
These options coupled with making sure your loved one can identify why a public serviceman would approach them could be extremely beneficial to prevent negative encounters with law officials.