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Autism: Information for Law Enforcement and Other First Responders

NCJ Number
Date Published
January 2011
4 pages
This publication provides law enforcement officers and other first-responders with information on individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), so they will be prepared to communicate effectively with victims who have ASD and provide them appropriate assistance.
ASD is a complex neurological developmental disability with a variety of symptoms. People with autism may have difficulties in communication and mature social interaction. They may also have unusual reactions to sensory input that may result in inappropriate behaviors. A common behavioral symptom of ASD of particular relevance to law enforcement is an inability to associate uniforms and other official symbols of law enforcement officers with the functions officers are performing in interactions with a victim with ASD. Some advice to law enforcement officers in interactions with persons recognized to have ASD are to not insist on eye contact; do not attempt to stop repetitive behaviors unless they are causing harm or damage to themselves, others, or property; avoid touching them if possible, and if touching is necessary, explain what and why you are engaging in physical contact; keep questions simple and allow time for answers; gently persuade or remove the person from any dangerous situation; and if a person with ASD continues to do something after the officer has told him/her to stop, demonstrative non-threatening gestures may be more effective than firm, threatening verbal commands. Other suggestions are also offered on how to react to and manage certain behaviors of a person with ASD. 13 references and resources