Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum

Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Resources
Recorded on: 2020-02-04
Unit 1 Slide Deck: Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
Unit 2 Workbook: Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum
Unit 3 Recording: Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum

This session is the final installment of the Autism Spectrum Disorder webinar series. Tying up what was discussed and applying what was learned in the first three webinars, this session provides real-life law enforcement encounters with individuals on the spectrum.

Back on Justice Clearinghouse is Dr. Wes Dotson. He is the Director of the Burkhart Center for Autism Education and Research and an Associate Professor in the Special Education Program at Texas Tech University. He has an extensive background teaching, researching on, and working with individuals with developmental disabilities. He has a Ph.D. in Behavioral Psychology from the University of Kansas.


Specifics covered on this course include:

  • Statistics that illustrate the prevalence and growth of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the US.
  • Understanding what ASD is and it’s diagnostic criteria.
  • The two defining characteristics of ASD which may be observed in individuals on the spectrum.
    • Deficits in social interaction and communication skills.
    • Repetitive patterns and rigidity of behavior, interests, and activities.
  • Pointers to keep in mind when dealing with an individual with ASD to make the encounter easier especially for law enforcement.
  • Ways to identify ASD in individuals by looking at the way they interact and behave, and other symbols and items associated with ASD to remember.
  • Guidelines when interacting with individuals with ASD.
    • To be wary of language given their propensity to be highly literal.
    • Providing visual supports to bridge their communication skill deficiencies.
    • Giving advance notice and simplifying the environment to prevent overwhelm and allow them to process information.
  • Detailed case examples of law enforcement encounters with people on the spectrum – the symptoms of ASD manifested, how law enforcement responded, and the outcomes.
    • A student on the ASD who was mistaken to be driving under the influence and was restrained.
    • A drug offender’s daughter with ASD who was caught amidst an overwhelming tactical entry and arrest.
    • A young man with ASD seen pacing and acting erratically on the streets but was de-escalated effectively.


Topics discussed during the Q&A were:

  • Suggestions and resources to provide parents asking for help to manage their child on the spectrum.
  • The critical role of dispatchers in ensuring that all necessary precautions and reminders are given to responders if it’s been known that an individual with ASD is present.
  • Additional details about the Fresno incident.
  • Training responders to be more observant and adapt to the situation.
  • Tips on how to lessen the sensory overload, create a safe space, and de-escalate the situation.
  • Training individuals with ASD and their families to show officers the ASD cards without running the risk of having it mistaken for a weapon.


This is the fourth of a 4 part series, including:


Resources and Handouts



Audience Comments:

  • “That he explained where the areas of improvements were for law officers as well as what they did correctly. This was very relevant to police officer roles. — Alexandra
  • “We are a group of behavior analysts in Wisconsin. This webinar was a good conversation-starter for how we can connect with others in our community to help support our clients and others on the spectrum.” — Amelia
  • “It was helpful to learn how to approach those on the autism spectrum because this is not often discussed in trainings.” — Brandi
  • “Feedback on actual cases is a great so we can see how the initial contact is so important when dealing with individuals.” — Charmaine
  • “I learned a lot. Really opened my eyes on how to handle this clientele of people.” — Ebeth
  • “Not just one thing – his wealth of knowledge was evident. His examples, explanations, and case reviews really put things in place.” — Janette
  • “I really liked this that the speaker said: “Protocol exists for a reason but so does judgment… if you recognize something isn’t working, are you willing to adapt?” — Nekame
  • “Excellent webinar. Information to be used in many disciplines!” –Nancy


Additional Resources
4 years ago
Thoughts on Adaptation from Dr. Wes Dotson
What a great reminder Dr. Wes Dotson shared during his webinar, Case Studies in Law Enforcement Enco […]
4 years ago
After the Webinar: Case Studies in Law Enforcement: Encounters with Individuals on the Autism Spectrum. Q&A with Dr. Wes Dotson
Webinar presenter Dr. Wes Dotson answered a number of your questions after his presentation,  Case […]
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Wandering and Elopement in Children with Autism and NCMEC Resources
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Recognizing the Signs of Victimization in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder
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Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders: Characteristic behaviors, challenges, and tips for successful interactions
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Autism Awareness for Justice Professionals
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