There is no perfect solution for how we address the interactions between individuals with autism and police, or other similar emergency responders. Much of the training and understanding needs to come from better education in the law by police departments on interacting with children on the spectrum and other disabilities. There are many departments that have implemented such programs already, but until that occurs on a national scale there are some proactive behaviors that parents can do.
Reach out or visit your local police department
Inquire with your local police department if they already have a training and registration program for residents with special needs and if not if they would be willing or interested in starting one. There are several departments that have started training programs that can form as a model for others. Even if the department is not prepared to create a training program try to form a relationship with them. Help them to understand your child. Tell them what behavior to expect if they encounter your child and how the officers can behave to best approach your child. If your child has dangerous behaviors such as aggression or tantrums explain what techniques might help to calm your child.
Prepare a brief explanation of your child’s behavior and disability
You can keep a written copy of this information on you when you are out in the community. You can get a bracelet for your child to wear that can provide information that your child can show when interacting with law enforcement or others that do not know them. There are also wallet cards that your child can carry. When deciding which option is best for your child, the wallet card will allow for more information but the bracelet prevents the child from needing to reach in their pocket to show the officer. The wallet card may be more appropriate for children who can ask the officer permission to take out the card. There are also some unique options for a phone app (if you child carries a cell phone) and a temporary tattoo. Below are links to some options:
Role play with your child
Create scripts and practice interactions with law enforcement with your child. Role play different scenarios that provide them with experience of how different officers might respond and the way in which your child should respond. If you are able to form a relationship with your police department you could consider asking them to help set up practice scenarios with uniformed officers to make the role play closer to what the child will encounter in a real situation.
Some specific skills to target in role play:
- Practice how your child will disclose their disability to the officers (e.g. help them develop a statement or show card, ID bracelet, etc.)
- Practice putting hands up and/or keeping hands visible at all times. If possible, teach them to never put their hands in their pockets, in a bag, or behind their back.
- Have them always face the officer and never turn around when they are in the presence of the officer.
- Practice remaining still and not running or moving quickly.
- Practice self-calming and coping strategies such as deep breathing.
While these strategies are not a complete solution and may not be effective for each individual with autism, they can hopefully provide some short term benefit while continuing to advocate to our local and state police and emergency responders to begin training programs.
Additional Teaching Resources: