Midland Police, Firefighters Learn How to Interact With Autistic People

By Jen Kastner
NewsWest 9

MIDLAND- Midland law enforcement and fire-rescue crews came together Tuesday for in-depth training on autism. With the rate of diagnoses sky-rocketing, comes a growing need for these officials to understand how to interact with autistic people, who can fall anywhere on a massive spectrum of behaviors.

The simplest acts of daily life can accidentally get people with autism into trouble with the law. For example, when autistic people go to the supermarket, many of them compulsively re-arrange goods on the shelves in a effort to maintain order and control. To a store manager, that behavior can come across as suspicious. A store manager might even believe that person is shoplifting.

The Midland Association for Intellectually Handicapped Citizens tells NewsWest 9 that there are more than 50 known families in Midland who are dealing with autistic family members. That number will only continue to grow. At Tuesday's workshop, Tall City law enforcement and fire-rescue personnel were introduced to techniques and tactics for dealing with autistic people.

"When my son was a little boy, we had [situations] with the police that I could have never predicted," International Autism Risk Management Expert, Dennis Debbaudt, said.

It was Debbaudt's personal experience that brought him into the position he is in today.

"[Autistic people] may rock back and forth with their hands over the ears or eyes. Finger-flicking and carrying objects that seem unusual [is common]," Debbaudt said.

Not all autistic people exhibit those behaviors, but officials need to be on the look out for them. Several autistic people don't speak, so officials might need to get through to them by different means.

"Visuals, pictures and written word [help]," Debbaudt said.

A lot of autistic people have heightened senses. Bright, flashing lights and loud noises can send them into a meltdown.

Midland Fire Department's Firefighter-Paramedic, James Firth, says, "It's a lot more helpful to receive that information [that the patient is autistic] before [lights and sirens] becomes a problem. When you show up and you have them going, you make the situation a lot worse than it needs to be."

Jean Jones with the Midland Association for Intellectually Handicapped Citizens says, "[Autism] is a subject that people need to be aware of and know how to approach and how to work with how to recognize and how to interact with."

For more information, visit: www.autismriskmanagement.com.