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Contact with Individuals with Autism: Effective Resolutions

NCJ Number
FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin Volume: 70 Issue: 4 Dated: April 2001 Pages: 20-24
Dennis Debbaudt; Darla Rothman Ph.D.
Date Published
April 2001
5 pages
Police officers need training to understand the cues that indicate that a person may have autism and to use appropriate techniques when interacting with the person, because research indicates that people with developmental disabilities are approximately seven times more likely than others to come into contact with law enforcement.
Autism is a developmental disability that is a neurological disorder that affects individuals differently. Contact with persons with autism may occur anywhere in the community, including workplaces and regular homes. Persons with autism do not know the implications of their behavior, including their aggressive actions. Officers should not interpret an autistic individual’s failure to respond to orders or questions as a lack of cooperation or as a reason for increased force. They can use the acronym AUTISM to remember the techniques they should use, starting with approaching the person in a quiet, non-threatening manner. They should never place an autistic person in custody with the general incarcerated population before a mental health professional assesses them. They also need to recognize that individuals with autism often confess to crimes that they did not commit or may respond to the last choice in a sequence presented in a question. Education and understanding will aid officers avoid difficulties and recognize that no call is routine. Photographs and 5 reference notes