Indiana requires law enforcement and other “first responders” to complete one hour of autism-specific education each year. While this amount of time is clearly not adequate, it does at least offer some information to officers, paramedics, emergency medical technicians (EMTs), and firemen about persons with autism.
The Purdue University Police Department recently contacted Mary Rosswurm, Little Star’s Executive Director, and inquired if Little Star (LSC) could provide their department with a training on autism. As Mary has an adult son with autism, as well as serves on the Indiana Commission on Autism, which helped enact the First Responder Training Act, she was very eager to help. The training occurred in West Lafayette and was divided into two sessions of 16 officers each. Police Sergeant Keene Red Elk specifically requested training by LSC, because the video recorded training they received the year prior was not interactive and did not address the many questions that the officers had about autism.
The instruction focused on identifying individuals with autism and general tips and strategies on how to assist them during emergencies and crisis situations. Teaching law enforcement to identify individuals with autism is difficult, as they have limited time to interact with the person and must assess the situation quickly. The training focused on the social, communication, behavioral and sensory issues commonly seen in people with autism. Within each of the topic areas, they discussed possible situations requiring interaction with law enforcement. The group also discussed supports and strategies that could be used to assist officers in dealing with the challenges that are typical to persons affect by autism.
The police officers had many questions about communicating with non-verbal individuals with autism. Tim Courtney, LSC Research & Training Director, conducted the program and demonstrated the Proloquo2go, which is an iPad communication application that is becoming increasingly popular among non-verbal persons with autism. Several of the learners at Little Star currently use these devices. Department personnel discussed possibly purchasing an iPad with Proloquo2go to facilitate communication with individuals with autism that are non-vocal. Tim discussed the limitations and extensive training needs for individuals to communicate with assistive devices and noted the willingness and commitment of the Purdue University Police Department.
“I presented examples of tragic situations in which interactions with police officers resulted in fatalities or injury,” said Tim. “I reviewed the positional asphyxia risks of physical management with individuals with autism. Individuals with autism can have underdeveloped trunk muscles and can suffocate when pressure is applied to their chest. I was surprised some of the officers were not aware of the positional asphyxia risk.”
One interesting area specific to the Purdue Police Department was addressing behavior exhibited by individuals with autism attending the University. The officers presented examples of behavior, based upon the presentation they now thought may have been exhibited by an individual with autism. The group brainstormed possible ways to deal with these situations should they arise again. This led to a discussion on how to best work with parents of newly enrolled students with autism. The police officers felt having the parent or caregiver visit the police station and provide essential information about their student would be a good practice. The information could be plugged into the 911 database and easily accessed if needed.
“It was a pleasure to spend time with these officers,” said Tim. “I look forward to working with them to help ensure that Purdue University is a safe and enjoyable environment for all its student body.”
After the Purdue training, Tim was invited to train the Tippecanoe County Crisis Intervention Team. Purdue University law enforcement is one of four area police departments participating in the Tippecanoe County Crisis Intervention Team. The Crisis Intervention Team is a community partnership of law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, mental health consumers and their family members. Other area police departments include Lafayette, West Lafayette, and the Tippecanoe County Sheriff’s Department. Training consists of a full 40 hours and covers mental illnesses, development disorders and treatments, psychotropic medications, methods of approaching a crisis situation, suicide prevention, techniques for de-escalating the crisis and available community resources. The Crisis Intervention Team model was developed in Memphis, TN in 1988 following the tragic death of a person with mental illness in crisis. The model has since been adopted by communities across the U.S.
Tim graduated with a Masters of Science in Applied Behavior Analysis from Florida Institute of Technology (FIT) in 2006 and became a Board Certified Behavior Analyst that same year. He has worked as a behavior analyst since 2003 with different organizations across the United States. In addition to his work as a behavior analyst, Tim has been a co-instructor in the ABA department of FIT since 2007. His research interests includes functional assessment, medical and dental avoidance and escape behavior, verbal behavior, and dissemination of the science of Applied Behavior Analysis. Tim is currently working on his Ph.D. in Special Education at Purdue University.