Although the presentation of autism varies significantly among individuals, it affects every age group and occurs in all ethnic and socioeconomic groups.
ASD—Autism Spectrum Disorder— is a pervasive developmental disorder that encompasses autistic disorder, Asperger’s disorder and pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified. Formerly, each disorder had its own distinct criteria. Now only one set of criteria exists with all three under the single diagnosis.
As such, ASD is characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.
Estimates suggest that 50,000 teens with ASD transition into adulthood each year. This is why VirTra is addressing autism in its latest V-VICTA™—VirTra –Virtual Interactive Coursework Training Academy— curriculum launch due to the difficulties law enforcement face when encountering people who may be on the autism spectrum.
According to a 2017 study from the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University, an estimated one in five teenagers with autism was stopped and questioned by the police before age 21, and 5 percent were arrested. And according to research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, people with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum, are five times more likely to be incarcerated than people in the general population, and “civilian injuries and fatalities during police interactions are disproportionately common among this population.”
To curb these potential negative encounters between law enforcement and individuals on the autism spectrum, VirTra has committed their most recent efforts to provide meaningful, realistic and timely education to law enforcement through its new autism curriculum.
To ensure police officers are equipped with the right skills to effectively and safely communicate with those with ASD, VirTra has teamed up with Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). Through SARRC’s global expertise in the area of autism, VirTra was able to establish comprehensive coursework and a series of simulator scenarios to assist law enforcement in learning the proper communication tactics.
While VirTra normally uses professional actors when filming scenarios, for this curriculum, VirTra made a deliberate and thoughtful decision to hire adults and teens with an autism diagnosis to represent the many different scenarios.
Law enforcement members who participate in this course will receive lesson plans, test and pre-tests. They will be walked through each lesson via an on-screen instructor and go through scenarios designed to teach officers how to properly talk through situations. The autism scenarios are not simply “shoot-don’t-shoot” situations; rather, the scenarios are made to enhance verbal skills and awareness of what the presentation of ASD may look like while working in the field.
With a growing number of diagnoses, as well as more teens transitioning to adulthood each year, there is a higher chance officers will encounter a person on the spectrum. To avoid unnecessary trauma of those with ASD and scrutiny of your agency, VirTra and SARRC firmly believe extensive training and education is the right path.
To receive the autism curriculum as well as any other new V-VICTA curriculum, your department must be a current VirTra law enforcement customer with an annual service agreement. For those wishing to set up an annual service agreement or re-establishing an outdated one, contact a VirTra specialist.