Tales of sour interactions between police and people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) appear to be trending. Last month in Tampa Bay, an autistic teen was killed by police who were called to his home on a domestic disturbance call. Earlier this year, an autistic teen in Virginia was found guilty for assaulting a police officer.
As to why these incidents are increasing, autism advocate Dennis Debbaudt has two theories:
Firstly, diagnosis rates are up. Secondly, “back in the late ’60s, ‘early 70s, most people with autism, developmental disabilities, mental illness were living in institutions,” Debbaudt says. “Those days are long over.”
Debbaudt, of Port St. Lucie, has helped train officials from the FBI to the New York and Chicago police departments on how to interact with people with ASD. He’s also the father of 28-year-old Brad, who has autism. Debbaudt estimates that at least 100,000 first responders have had some type of autism awareness training; this leaves many more who haven’t.
“We can’t ask them to diagnose the condition in the field,” says Debbaudt, who runs the website AutismRiskManagement.com. “It’s tough enough to get pediatricians to diagnose it in their office, let alone someone who isn’t ready for this.”
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