Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Duration: 60 Minutes
Module 1 Module 1
Recorded on: 2021-11-04
Unit 1 Presentation Materials: Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Unit 2 Transcript: Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Unit 3 Workbook: Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders
Unit 4 Recording: Case Studies in Law Enforcement Encounters with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders

People with autism are 4 to 5 times more likely than the general population to have an encounter with law enforcement. The reasons lie in the characteristics and behavior distinctive to those with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and how it can come in conflict with law enforcement’s duty to ensure public safety.

Back on the Justice Clearinghouse to lead the discussion on common scenarios where law enforcement encounters people with ASD is Wes Dotson. Wes is an Associate Professor in the Special Education Department in the College of Education and the Director of Applied Behavior Intervention Services at the Thompson Center for Autism & Neurodevelopmental Disorders at the University of Missouri. He’s involved in special education and clinical practice working with individuals with developmental disabilities in different settings.

Specifics of this webinar covered:

  • The general increased awareness when it comes to recognizing ASD.
  • The medical criteria for ASD, the distinct ways that these may exhibit, and how it may manifest in varying ways and degrees as it falls on a spectrum.
  • Some pointers to keep in mind when dealing with individuals with ASD – their responses are not personal, they want to do the right thing, they like rules and structure, and interactions are likely to be awkward.
  • The importance for law enforcement to understand ASD behavior and characteristics so they’ll be better equipped to interact with individuals on the spectrum and have better outcomes.
  • Particular markers to familiarize with that indicate a person may have ASD.
  • Tips for interaction with people with ASD that center on giving them time and creating space, providing them with specific instructions, and creating a stable environment for them to better process things.
  • Case studies detailing the incident details, the ASD symptoms that manifested, and how law enforcement managed the interaction with the individuals with autism.
    • Case 1: A non-verbal man who had ASD wandered away and got entangled in a burglary call.
    • Case 2: A man with ASD living in a group home got aggressive with the group home’s staff member and ended up under the supervision of the jail.
    • Case 3: A teenager with autism who wandered after her established routine was broken.
  • Lessons learned from each case.
    • Case 1: How law enforcement can create better interactions with people with autism by providing time and creating space before going straight to compliance protocol.
    • Case 2: How individuals on the spectrum tend to prefer the jail environment because of its stability and predictability, and the need for those with ASD to access therapeutic resources and recreational activities which tend to be unavailable in the jail environment.
    • Case 3: The value of advanced awareness training and open communication between dispatch, responders, the individual’s family, and care providers when responding to calls involving individuals with ASD.

Questions from the webinar participants are on:

  • The percentage of the population that is on the spectrum.
  • Increased training for law enforcement on responding to calls that involve people with mental and developmental disabilities.
  • Best practices so family members can assist in de-escalation.
  • The benefits of getting a child with autism to meet common first responders when there is no crisis to better manage their expectations when there is a crisis.
  • How autism registries are managed and how it can help not just those with ASD but other individuals with medical conditions and disabilities.
  • Training resources for law enforcement to better assist a person with ASD.
  • Using the strategies discussed to individuals with other developmental disorders and cognitive issues.


Other Webinars with this Speaker


Resources and Handouts


Audience Comments
  • “The initial response is so important in dealing with any individuals especially those who have challenges. I think we need more education on Autism as a society in general.” — Hollie
  • “I appreciated the examples and how to approach people, giving the 30 seconds to assess the situation before reacting. Very well done!” — Kim
  • “This was eye-opening for me because it’s so easy to misread cues if you aren’t aware of them. Knowing what signs to look for will be very helpful.” — Michelle
  • “I have a background in teaching young people with autism and it was good to hear from another experienced professional.” — Sally
  • “That was an informative webinar, you covered a lot of great info and provided some great tips. Thank you for your valuable work!” — Lila
  • “The topic and presentation was very informative. I learned a lot and I am VERY happy that I was a part of this webinar!” — Kyle
  • “I have a child with Autism and am retired LE. I thought the seminar was FANTASTIC. I am going to suggest this be a required part of the Police Academy put on by our agency and also a part of annual in-service training.” — Leigh



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