Police, first responders receive autism training

Independent Living Services held an autism training session for law enforcement officers and first responders.

Executive Director Elissa Douglas said ILS held the training for police and other first responders who may encounter an autistic person “in the performance of their daily lives” in hopes to improve dialogue and understanding between the two.

Detectives with the Conway Police Department as well as representatives from the Conway Fire Department, North Little Rock Fire Department, Conway Dispatch Center and ILS staff attended the training.

CFD Cpt. Richard Powell said the training was helpful in teaching responders how to identify an autistic patient.

He also said the course brought awareness to the issue, noting that one in 68 children in the U.S. is on the autism spectrum.

Autism, or the autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of condition characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication.

Danielle Henry, ILS human resources director, led the training Tuesday.

Henry said it’s important to watch the mannerisms of someone with autism to see if they have any repetitive behaviors or if they make eye contact to help determine if the person is autistic.

Autistic individuals often do not give full details on their injuries, she said.

Henry said autistic individuals react to pain differently, some having a high pain tolerance and others showing sensitivity to pain.

It’s important to keep an eye on an autistic individual on scene because they want to wander places they feel safe or are familiar with, she said. In the event of a house fire, Henry cautioned that someone with autism may attempt to re-enter the home.

Henry also advised attendees to use direct language when speaking to autistic patients.

Instead of asking the person to give their full attention, officers and first responders should not ask the patient to look them in the eyes.

Henry also said to avoid asking people with autism leading questions.

Many autistic individuals are known for wandering, Henry said.

To help locate these individuals after they wander off, she recommended using their likes and dislikes to lure them to safety.

Henry also said to speak quietly and in a non-threatening manner when speaking to autistic defendants, witnesses and victims.

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