Local Officers Train How To Deal With Autism

By: Liam Martin Email
By: Liam Martin Email

MASON -- It is not your typical training session.

"We need to educate all our police officers on how to deal with these sorts of things so that people aren't inappropriately arrested, and all that goes with that," said Ingham County Sheriff Gene Wriggelsworth.

He and dozens of officers from local law-enforcement agencies gathered Wednesday at the Ingham County Sheriffs Office to learn how to deal with subjects who have autism spectrum disorder (which can range from Asperger's Syndrome to low-functioning autism).

Such individuals, on average, are more likely to come in contact with law enforcement at some point in their lives than people without the disorder.

"People in law enforcement are seven times more likely to have some kind of dealings with law enforcement, whether it's from wandering, a situation at school, etc.," said Lisa Grost, vice president of the Mid-Michigan Autism Association.

The organization teamed up with Wriggelsworth to bring in expert Dennis Debbaudt for Wednesday's training. Debbaudt is a long-time law-enforcement official who became an autism safety specialist after years of raising an autistic son.

"It really is a meeting of two worlds -- the autism and law-enforcement communities getting together to lower the risks for each other," Debbaudt told News 10 on Wednesday.

Officers here learned tips on identifying subjects on the autism spectrum, and how to approach them -- speaking softly, using simple language and being aware that they might be sensitive to touch or the sound of police sirens.

The trainees were also encouraged to keep a log of autistic individuals in the neighborhood.

It is training that is perhaps more important now than ever before, with diagnosis rates of autism in the U.S. At one in every 110 children, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

"Your body language, your tone of voice can all go a long way toward calming the situation down," Debbaudt said.

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