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Police Interaction With Autistic Persons: The Need For Training

April 27, 2011 Comments off

Police Interaction With Autistic Persons: The Need For Training (PDF)
Source: Americans for Effective Law Enforcement, Inc

From a third to a half of all persons with autism have such stunted speech development that they cannot meet their ordinary daily communication needs. Some may repeat others’ words. Unlike mute persons, the difficulty is not physical inability to make sounds, but a neurological and cognitive problem. Some autistic persons have difficulty making and maintaining eye contact with others. A police officer may mistakenly interpret this as “suspicious,” having something to hide, or defiance, when in reality it is not being able to or not knowing how to respond appropriately, or even fear from what, to many, would be a routine social encounter. The result has sometimes, unfortunately, been rapid escalation of the encounter, with ensuing injury or death.

The purpose of this article is to briefly examine some of the circumstances in which police have and will encounter autistic persons in the community. It does not focus on “theories of liability” for unfortunate consequences that may result from such encounters. A small number of court decisions, however, are used as examples. Instead, the focus here is on bringing needed attention to a problem, and hopefully, helping to create awareness of some possible solutions.

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