Autism and Public Safety Interactions
Category: Public Safety
Gordon Graham here with Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Today’s tip is for everyone in public safety, and it’s about encountering people with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Restraining someone who already feels threatened may trigger more severe aggressive behavior such as headbanging, biting, spitting, or throwing things.
Autism impairs a person’s ability to communicate and interact with the world around them. It affects more than 1% of the population. Autism is a developmental disability. People with developmental disabilities are much more likely to come into contact with public safety personnel.
People with autism may experience a wide range of symptoms including compulsive or impulsive behavior, difficulty paying attention, anxiety, sensory overload, and aggression. The severity of symptoms varies widely, too.
It’s important to try to determine if someone has autism. It is impossible to tell based on appearance. Some indications that a person may have autism include lack of eye contact, poor or limited communication skills, and repetitive movements.
Some people with autism are sensitive to touch. Even a light touch on the arm or shoulder might cause a fight or flight response. Restraining someone who already feels threatened may trigger more severe aggressive behavior such as headbanging, biting, spitting, or throwing things.
Here are some things to try the next time you encounter a person who may have autism. Approach in a quiet, non-threatening manner. Talk in a calm voice and pause to wait for an answer. Be patient. Give simple and direct instructions. Remember that a lack of eye contact may not be a sign of disrespect. Keep a safe distance so that you can retreat if necessary. Avoid loud noises. Keep your portable radio turned down. Avoid bright lights like emergency lights. Avoid surprises. Tell the person what you are going to do before you do it.
Most importantly, please learn more about autism. There are many great resources out there. Check out the National Autism Association’s “Be Ready” booklet for first responders. Also, the Autism Society of Austin, Texas has a great training video on its website.
And that’s Today’s Tip from Lexipol. Gordon Graham, signing off.