Deputies get training on AutismAug 16th, 2010 | By admin | Category: News
With the number of children diagnosed with autism on the rise across the country, the St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office is taking steps to help its officers be prepared to effectively engage those living with the developmental disorder.
The department is helping its officers better interact with people living with autism in two ways. First, deputies now have access to a two-hour training session that offers videos and discussion to help officers know what to expect when engaging persons with autism. In addition, the department is now compiling a database of registered people with autism so that deputies will be able to anticipate communication needs before initiating contact.
Autism awareness has been on the rise across the country the past few years. In 2007, studies indicated that one in 150 children would develop autism. By 2009, that number increased 14 percent.
“More information is being gathered each year on autism awareness. National statistics indicate one in 110 children are now diagnosed with autism and the number is growing percentage-wise each year,” St. Bernard Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy James Pohlmann said.
Sergeant Kirt Arnold, a 10-year veteran with the St. Bernard Sheriff’s office, is leading the training courses, which began Monday. In just the first two days of training, close to 40 officers attended. Arnold said the classes are currently voluntary, but that every deputy is expected to attend. When the entire sheriff’s department has been trained, the St. Bernard Fire Department will then receive training.
“Most like in a traffic stop or some other call, you’re going to come across someone with autism, you may just not know it,” Arnold said.
As part of the training, each student receives an index card with general information about autism. On one side, common characteristics of people living with autism is offered. The opposite side lists tips for interacting with those people.
For instance, to address some of the communication challenges brought on by autism, deputies are encouraged to use simple language, speak slowly, use concrete terms and allow extra time for response. Officers are also encouraged to be careful in how they restrain a person with autism, due to poor respiratory muscle development.
The department also has obtained a computer-aided dispatch system through which residents with family members who have autism may register them with the Sheriff’s Department. When a police officer is dispatched to the house, the officer will be notified that someone with autism lives at that address.
To register a family member or dependent, call the Sheriff’s Office at 504-278-7632. Leave a name and daytime phone number, including area code, as well as the name of the person being registered.
Experts do not know whether the increase in the number autism cases is due to better detection and reporting, an actual increase in the number of cases, or both. While there is no cure for autism, intensive, early treatment can make a big difference in the lives of many children with the disorder. Males with autism outnumber females with the disorder four to one.
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