In collaboration with the Brownsville Police Department and Bebo’s Angels, Driscoll Health Plan recently organized a comprehensive autism training program for the city’s police officers. The training session, which took place on Wednesday, was facilitated by Dennis Debbaudt, owner of Debbaudt Legacy Productions and Autism Risk & Safety Management.
Driscoll Health Plan, in collaboration with Brownsville Police Department and Bebo’s Angels, held an Autism Risk & Safety Management training program Wednesday for Brownsville’s police officers, presented by Dennis Debbaudt.
The significance of this training cannot be understated, as Brownsville boasts a larger autistic community than most. Officer Regino Garza of the Brownsville Police Department expressed his gratitude for the valuable information provided during the program. He acknowledged that encountering individuals with autism is a common occurrence for the police force.
Unfortunately, misconceptions arise when people mistake the unique movements of autistic individuals as signs of intoxication or drug use. The training dispelled such misconceptions, empowering officers to better understand and respond appropriately to autistic individuals they encounter on duty.
“The information they put out to us is really helpful for us because we do encounter a lot of people with autism…it’s a big misconception when people call us that they (the autistic) person is drunk or doing drugs because of the type of movements they do sometimes, but that is not the case at all,” Garza said. “This training along with others is extremely helpful to us, when we get there. It helps us quick.”
About three years ago, parents were provided with Law Enforcement Special Needs Awareness decals that could be placed on their vehicles, indicating a child with autism was riding in the vehicle to alert police.
“I personally have responded to several cases where the kids are flaring up with little tantrums. There’s only so much we can do. The parents themselves are the ones who should also be getting some training for this,” Garza said.
Autism prevalence rates have risen dramatically in recent years. Current statistics reveal that 1 in 44 people in America are on the autism spectrum, a significant increase compared to the 1 in 150 reported in 2000. Nationwide, the number of autistic individuals has grown from half a million to 7 million, underscoring the urgent need for specialized training for law enforcement officers.
Garza said while the numbers may sound alarming, they really aren’t because just about every police officer on patrol has encountered a person with autism once a day or once a week.
Although Debbaudt talked about the types of autistic people the officers may encounter while on patrol, he said the primary goal is “officer safety. If at times you don’t feel safe, screw the tips and everything else and maintain your safety.”
Debbaudt provided the officers with autism response cards with tips on staying safe when dealing with a person who has autism.
Autism Awareness Tips for Police
- Display calm body language,
- Use simple language
- Speak slowly
- Repeat and rephrase questions
As part of Wednesday’s training, the officers watched a five-minute video that showed two officers responding to a suspicious person call, which later turned out to be an autistic man. The officers first questioned the man before determining that something was not right and helped him get back to his family. They had no idea that he suffered from autism.
According to Debbaudt, as with Alzheimer’s patients, people with autism may wander. In addition, persons with autism may be attracted to water sources, roadways, or peer into and enter dwellings.
Information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pertaining to autism indicates that autism affects all races and socioeconomic groups and that it is four times more common among boys than among girls.
In addition, about one in six or 17% of children between the ages of 3 to 17 were diagnosed with a developmental disability, as reported by parents during a study period of 2009-2017. These include autism, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), blindness, and cerebral palsy, among others.
Debbaudt said it is important that presentations such as the one he gave Wednesday be provided because the diagnosis of autism has become so frequent in America and that the contacts autistic people are having with law enforcement are becoming more frequent.
“Within that population, because it’s a behavioral and communication disability, it can pose problems understanding and reacting well and giving people time and space and simple communications is the key,” he said.
This training has equipped Brownsville’s police officers with invaluable knowledge and tools to enhance their interactions with individuals on the autism spectrum. Contact Autism Risk & Safety Management to schedule a virtual or live training program.
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