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Richmond, VA: Police receive ASD training; 'prevalence really on the rise'

Aug 27, 2023, Richmond Times Dispatch: Richmond police and autism community in communication https://richmond.com/news/local/autism-richmond-police-train-communication-interaction-traffic-stop/article_8361708a-451d-11ee-a83f-23d0ba4a9214.html

Richmond police officers gathered with members of the autism community on Sunday for a seminar where two groups learned to better communicate with each other.

An afternoon with several different activities taught participants real-world knowledge for responding to a variety of scenarios where they might encounter police officers, while also giving those officers experience recognizing certain behaviors associated with autism.

Reid Eaton, 27, was one of 49 participants to attend the seminar cohosted by the Autism Society of Central Virginia and the Richmond Police Department.

“I gained information in case a situation happens with law enforcement, how to interact with them or what it would be like going to court, plus different procedures to follow,” Eaton said. “I think it’s been helpful.”

Richmond police officers hold a mock traffic stop for a person with autism. The scenario was one of several events at a Sunday seminar where officers and people with autism learned to better communicate with each other. “The prevalence of autism is really on the rise,” said Ann Flippin, ASCV executive director. “I think that it’s really likely police will have more and more interactions with individuals with autism.”

Eaton, for instance, says he lives with ADHD and Tourette’s syndrome, in addition to autism, which cause him to be more sensitive to unexpected stimuli in an environment. Those stimuli, or the general discomfort of being questioned by police, could cause him to walk away from a situation unprompted.

Police who are unaware that he has autism might be alarmed by that behavior if they don’t know what to look out for. …

Data released earlier this year from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that children are being diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder at the highest rates since recording began in 2000. That study showed that 1 in 36 8-year-olds had autism in 2020, a jump from one in 44 just two years earlier.
“The prevalence of autism is really on the rise,” Flippin said. “I think that it’s really likely police will have more and more interactions with individuals with autism.” …

Richmond Police Chief Rick Edwards has a son with autism. He said these kinds of scenarios are incredibly important to give all involved parties the playbook and context needed to ensure safe and positive outcomes. While he has practiced these types of interactions with his son, many of the parents and caregivers had not.

“It just gives the officer an extra piece of information because some of the things consistent with folks in the spectrum is an inability to make eye contact, which may seem suspicious under normal circumstances,” Edwards said. “We’re giving them the tools to say that they have autism and it helps the officer realize what they’re looking at isn’t criminal or suspicious. It’s part of a diagnosis.”


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