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Law Enforcers Get Training For Situations Involving Those With Autism

By Jamie Leary

DENVER (CBS4) - With diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder on the rise every year in the United States, the Autism Society of Colorado is hoping free training will reduce misunderstandings between first responders and those with ASD.

"I think it's really important that the people who have the experience, who have gone through the trenches, help the people that are out there struggling," said Christiane Dumas, a society board member.

According to the Autism Society, people with ASD are seven times more likely to have an encounter with law enforcement than a neurotypical person.

Dumas raised two boys with ASD and knows all too well how misunderstandings can lead to stressful situations with first responders.

Her son Mitchell is now 17 and her son Dylan is 19, and they're both high-functioning. Still, they have had their fair share of issues. Mitchell, while the more social of the two, has the occasional tantrum and a tendency to wander.

"Sometimes you may go well for six months and out of the blue something happens and you can't predict it," Dumas said.

Mitchell (credit: CBS)

In one instance, an Amber Alert was issued after Mitchell attempted to walk to school without telling anyone.

"The police officer said 'Well if you know that there's a danger why aren't you sitting with him?' and it's really hard because as a parent you feel like you're being attacked personally," Dumas said. "You start giving them a little bit more space so they can start getting a little bit more independent and it's a fine line."

On another occasion, Mitchell was restrained with handcuffs at his school.

"He was escalating and he couldn't verbalize what the issue was, so just like a little child, you know when they're little they throw the tantrums, they get upset because they can't communicate."

As Mitchell gets older, Dumas says, the situation gets more challenging for outsiders to understand.

"When it's a young adult, he's got a beard, you're like 'What the hell is going on? What is wrong with this picture?' and he's a big kid so people don't wont to get hurt, so the first defense mechanism is we're going to contain the situation," Dumas said.

LINK: Autism Society of Colorado

Dumas understands the immediate tendency to contain someone having an outburst, but she says if the first responder understood that person was on the spectrum, "They could understand he's not going to respond, he's escalated, so give him a chance to de-escalate."

Dumas believes that Colorado is progressive when it comes to resources for her boys but knows more needs to be done.

"We can change a lot of things if people group together and voice their concerns," Dumas said.

For more information on first responder training and how to register, click here. Registration ends Jan. 25 and classes begin Jan. 30.

Jamie Leary joined the CBS4 team in 2015 and currently works as a reporter for CBS4 News at 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. She couldn't imagine a better place to live and work and will stop at nothing to find the next great story. Jamie loves learning about and hearing from her fellow community members, so connect with her on Facebook or Twitter @JamieALeary.

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