Police officers in Cranston, Unites States, have taken up classroom instruction sessions on how to recognize potential signs of autism with people they encounter on the job.
The growing interest of law enforcement authorities on how to approach and interact with people who have autism has paved way for the two-hour class, for 149 officers conducted by Officer Jason Head of the Newport Police Department.
"We want to try to help our officers understand their needs, and not escalate a situation by mis-recognizing the subject's disability as an act of aggression," said Lt. Mark Freeborn.
Among the things to recognize: if a person fails to respond to an officer's commands, stands too close to the officer, or begins shouting. By training officers on better communication and recognition, "we will be able to prevent behavioral escalation and resolve a situation easily," said Col. Michael Winquist.
"It can look like the person's on drugs or they're intoxicated. People with autism can also be more sensitive to something you may say or do — or even something you're wearing. Even the smell of perfume or cologne can set them off," said Head.
The officers are learning the benefits of increasing communication in these situations as misinterpreting the signs of autism can put officers and civilians in danger. Speaking softly and avoiding a show of aggression are among the key responses.
Cranston officers will also be getting training on other behavioral health conditions, such as schizophrenia and psychosis later this year.