301 W. Franklin Street
Taylorville, IL 62568
CALL 911 FOR EMERGENCY
FROM THE SHERIFF’S DESK, VOL 4, NR 2.
By Sheriff Bruce Kettelkamp
I recently attended a special training session dealing with an unusual topic -- how to deal with those suffering from Autism Spectrum Disorders, also known as ASD. Its purpose was to help law enforcement, and other first responders, understand how to deal with those who suffer with this condition.
It was not long ago that these courses were very few and not readily available. With the increasing number of cases, the need for first responders to educate themselves makes it essential for this type of training to reach as many as possible.
ASD cases are technically neurologically based developmental disorders. They produce a broad range of symptoms and vary in severity across individuals.
Autism is 4 to 5 times more likely to be in males than females. Its onset is often before age 3, and the disorder affects about 1 in 55 children. It is the second, most common developmental disability, after mental retardations/intellectual impairment.
Autism is called a “spectrum” disorder. That means it expresses itself differently in everyone, meaning no two people are affected the same. Every person affected on the autism spectrum has problems, to some degree, with communication, social skills, and behavior. There is a saying that is often heard, “If you have seen one person with autism, you have seen ONE person with autism.”
Autism is usually not physically obvious, but the truth is all individuals with ASD will have difficulty with social interactions. Furthermore, current analysis indicates that ASD occurs in all racial, ethnic, and social groups, so virtually anyone can be affected.
The CDC, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been studying autism in depth. One of their programs, “Learn the Signs. Act Early”, works to help parents understand the problems ASD produces and how to best deal with them. It is a devastating blow to parents when they learn their child suffers from ASD. The many available programs, such as the one CDC offers, are helping parents build better lives for themselves and the affected children.
With the right treatment plan, and a lot of love and support, a child can learn, grow, and thrive!
So what “red flags” are there when dealing with autism? According to the CDC, a person with ASD might:
* Have delayed speech and language skills
* If verbal, may have a problem with speech volume or intonation
* Repeat words or phrases over and over
* Talk to themselves or to no one in particular
* Have unusual reactions to the way things sound, smell, taste, look, or feel
* Have self-stimulatory behavior (may rock their body, twirl or spin objects, flick their fingers, wrists or arms)
* Be fascinated with lights, reflections and/or shiny objects
* Have insensitivity to, or high tolerance, for pain
These sensory red flags are also very common:
* Have an inappropriate attachment to objects
* Get upset by minor changes
* Have a lack of awareness or fear of danger
* Avoid eye contact and/or want to be alone
* Have trouble understanding other people’s feelings or talking about their own feelings
For people with ASD, these symptoms make life very difficult. It is also important to realize that some people without an ASD might also have some of these symptoms.
Of course, law enforcement personnel encounter many individuals in emergency situations, and each emergency, and person encountered, may differ from the others.
Law enforcement and first responder training may provide a certain protocol appropriate for most cases they encounter, but that protocol may not always be the best way to deal with someone who has ASD.
It is important to realize that individuals with disabilities are 7 times more likely to come into contact with law enforcement than non-disabled people. Also, crimes against the disabled are not often reported. There is a 4 to 10 time’s higher risk of disabled people becoming victims of a crime.
Furthermore, they are more likely to wander or run away from caregivers. If they display unusual behavior, it may be misinterpreted by others as drug use, intoxication or mental illness.
Some of these factors may bring difficulty to the parents. For example, parents who are attempting to restrain a child might be suspected of abuse. Parents may be charged with endangerment when they have difficulty keeping a child from running away.
There is also victimization of people with ASD. Their lack of social understanding makes them likely targets for those with ill intent. They are often the victims of theft. They can have a hard time communicating how they were victimized, making them poor witnesses and resulting in difficulties with prosecution.
As a result of having difficulties with social and communication skills, individuals with ASD may run from first responders who are attempting to help them. They might also fight medical procedures. They may reach for a badge, or weapon, for no more reason than they are attracted to shiny objects. They may also have difficulty following verbal directions, may use few or no gestures, and may act without thinking.
To counteract these situations, responders who may face individuals with ASD are told to “give them a little more room” than they would give others. They are also trained to make sure their body language and speech are non-threatening. One of the most important lessons from the training is that first responders avoid interpreting the person’s failure to respond to orders or questions. First responders must realize this behavior is not a lack of cooperation on the individual’s part, nor is it a reason to use increased force.
The ASD training program demonstrates the kind of highly specialized and detailed training modern society requires. It’s an example of the vital commitment that law enforcement must make today in this ever-changing world.
Approximately 50 children living in the Christian County area have ASD. I encourage all parents of these children to contact the Christian County Sheriff’s Office and give them their address so it can be entered into the 911 system. It is very important for law enforcement and first responders to know, prior to their arrival to the scene of an emergency that they may be dealing with someone with a disability.
If anyone would like more information on ASD contact Reagan Cary, Director of Autism and Therapy Programs CTF Illinois at (217) 348-3869 extension 207.
Department Activity for the last 5 months: