I was asked to speak at training for the Phoenix Police Department called “Heightened Awareness Training”, this training was a first for them and a pilot project for us. We all have heard the stories in the media of police officers assaulting a child on the spectrum, most cases they had no idea that the child couldn’t understand directions so they used force inappropriately. If you go to u-tube you will see what I am talking about but brace yourself because some are bad. I have heard stories all over the nation of children dying by the hands of their caregivers; perhaps the police can be a voice for that child and resource for these families. This training was designed to stop the abuse from happening, educate them on whom to refer these families to within their community and to make sure they are protecting our children, not contributing in harming them.
The training began early Monday morning at their main training facility; I kicked off the day and spoke about Autism, Aspersers and Sensory Processing Disorders. I could have been there all day as you can imagine but I had about two hours to get the info covered. I used videos and examples of situations for them, this got them thinking about what they could change. It was great to see them interested and acknowledge this was not a phantom problem, but a real problem and children are being harmed.
An example I used for them was when you tell a child with autism to put their hands up; they might put them in their pocket instead. Police are trained that this is a threat and will use force to take someone down when necessary. I walked them through the common self-stimulatory behaviors, things they can look for when the child are under stress. As you can imagine I had a few officers come up and tell me they think their niece or child may be on the spectrum after attending the session. That is always great to hear because for me it means another life that can be improved.
The ending to the day was amazing. I was escorted to the indoor practice/testing facility. All police officers have to do yearly training on proper uses of force etc. This module they go inside takes them through a situation using a video screen and fake gun. Their responses are recorded, including gunfire and graded. This becomes important because it trains them when to use deadly force for example. So, they pre recorded a scenario with a father and his child with autism. The scenario was this, dad and son in kitchen getting a snack and child grabs the knife because he wants an apple, he associates the knife with getting an apple, not to harm his father. Well imagine the police are called and arrive on scene where a child about age 12 is holding a knife, what do you think happens?
Every officer did this exercise prior to my training. Prior to the training not a single person knew this child had autism or that the father was truly not being threatened. This is a sample of the training they are implementing to teach them in a safe manor how to deal with these situations. I was able to give feedback on proper responses, ways to deal with it etc. It was truly a step in saving a life. I wanted to share this experience with everyone because one day it may be your child.