May 18, 2005 at 9:42 PM CDT - Updated June 29 at 6:05 PM
Teaching Law Enforcement About Autism By: Wendy Ray
Cape Girardeau, MO -Autism is a disorder that mystifies a lot of people; no one really knows what causes it. N
ot everyone's aware of how to handle people with autism, including law enforcement. A special seminar in Cape Girardeau Wednesday aimed to sort it all out. Research shows there are ten times more people with autism than we once thought and they will have up to seven times more contact with law enforcement.
Dennis Debbaudt, an autism expert from Maryland, who's also the parent of an autistic child, travels the country teaching law enforcement how to deal with autistic children and adults. "It would be very easy for someone who doesn't know about autism, a member of the general public, a good law enforcement officer or emergency responder to misjudge what they're hearing or seeing from a person with autism," Debbaudt says.
Debbaudt says people with autism don't look any different than the rest of us, but they respond differently depending on the situation. It's important to learn their behaviors. "Not wanting to look someone in the eye is a basic characteristic of autism, but it's also a leading indicator of guilt for law enforcement officers," he says. "Autistic people have trouble with lights and sounds, overreacting, fleeing from strangers."
Cape Girardeau Police Officer Ike Hammonds says the seminar Wednesday morning at Southeast Missouri State made him realize he has come into contact with autistic children in the past. Hammonds says he's learned a lot. "It's interesting to see the different tactics and skills you've got to take on, move away from your sop, the things I've been trained to do," he says. "With an autistic person I may move away from my standard operating procedure."
Dennis Debbaudt says just like Alzheimers patients, people with autism sometimes wander off and officers need to be aware of that and ready to look for different types of identification. For example, an id bracelet may bother someone with autism so there information may be sewn into their clothing or in their shoes.