Back in the early 2000’s, the CDC reported 1 in 150 children had ASD (1)—autism spectrum disorder. Fast forward to 2018, the numbers increased to 1 in 54 children with autism. Now, as more data is gathered and more parents/ caretakers are aware of the signs, the latest data shows that 1 in 44 children are diagnosed with ASD.
The jump in numbers, especially considering the short span of time, can be due to a variety of reasons. But at the end of the day, what this means for us is that officers will be interacting with ASD individuals if they know it or not. As instructors, it is our job to ensure officers are aware of the signs and equipped with the proper communication skills so interactions with ASD individuals go as smooth as possible for everyone involved.
As such, autism training needs to be extensive, understood and reviewed often. What many don’t realize is that 40% of individuals with ASD are nonverbal (2)—another communication challenge that officers must overcome. Or that 31% of children with ASD have an intellectual disability that creates significant challenges in daily function (2). So even if your department currently engages in autism training, does it cover the entire range of autistic disabilities and communication differences?
The best way to ensure complete, proper training is to utilize nationally-certified training curriculum. For example, VirTra’s Training and Curriculum department worked with the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC) to create our certified “Autism Awareness” curriculum. Having SARRC as a partner provided us with valuable insight into autism, which we transfer to officers by teaching how to recognize the signs, communication strategies and how to reduce confusion and risk. This is accomplished through a combination of presentations, handbooks, videos and practice scenarios—as delivered by the instructor—for well-rounded training.
Training your officers about autism is not only important—it is expected. Communities have voiced their concerns and expectations and it is our job to fulfill them. One great example of this is the West Jordan Police Department, which underwent autism training consisting of VirTra’s curriculum and discussions with community members. After, Chief Ken Wallentine stated: “We’re astonished at the positive comments from our officers. They feel much better prepared to handle calls for service involving persons with autism and to practice empathy in an effective way.”
Engaging in autism training has a ripple effect that helps your officers, who in turn, help their communities. April is Autism Awareness Month, making it no better time to get started. Help us spread awareness and better training by sharing our message.
This article was originally published in IADLEST April 2022 Newsletter
- “Data & Statistics on Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Dec. 2021, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html.
- “Autism Statistics and Facts.” Autism Speaks, https://www.autismspeaks.org/autism-statistics-asd