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Provide mandatory autism training to police officers

This petition had 138 supporters

Picture this: an eight year old girl being yelled at, handcuffed, and pinned to the ground by a police officer.  Now add the fact that this young child also has autism.  She was not armed.  She was not threatening the life of herself or others.  She was having a meltdown which are not uncommon among individuals with autism.  With the ever-increasing numbers of children being diagnosed with autism, police officers should attend mandatory training on autism so that they may help preserve the public safety for all individuals.  We believe that training could have prevented the trauma that this young girl experienced at the hands of this Unified Police Officer. 

Research indicates that people with developmental disabilities, including autism, have up to seven times more contacts with police than members of the general public (Curry).   Unfortunately, the current police training requirements are severely lacking in regard to the training of police officers in how to interact with individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD).   Autism is the fastest-growing serious developmental disability in the U.S., affecting 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys nationally.  Compared to other states, Utah has one of the highest rates of autism. 

Those members of the public affected by autism, which include caregivers and parents of individuals with autism, schools with autistic students, and autistic individuals themselves, are often hesitant or afraid to reach out for help from police when an officer’s help could be extremely beneficial. 

The fear of contacting police is not without merit.  Nationally, there have been numerous incidents involving excessive force, injury and even death of autistic individuals, as well as injury to responding police officers, due to lack of sufficient knowledge regarding how to prevent escalation of a crisis situation involving an individual with autism.  The story involving the 8 year old girl mentioned above occurred in June 2014 in the Salt Lake City area.  The child was having a meltdown which is a stress response experienced by some individuals with autism.   The individuals can often become overwhelmed by the barrage of sensory information while subsequently struggling to effectively express their emotions and thoughts.  They may attempt to flee the uncomfortable situation…become aggressive, or simply shut down.  A meltdown may appear to uninformed individuals to merely be a tantrum; however, unlike tantrums, the individual has little control over their behavior.  According to the AELE Law Enforcement Legal Center:

“Traditional law enforcement techniques for controlling and containing such a situation are ineffective and may provoke further escalation or a violent physical outburst by the person with ASD.” (AELE)

Recognizing the need for police officers to be trained to effectively manage situations involving mental health issues, the Salt Lake City Police Department created the Crisis Intervention Team in 2008.  Aware of this resource, the mother of the child mentioned above, requested a CIT-trained police officer but none were available.  The CIT program is a great first step to address situations involving individuals with autism, as well as other disabilities, but its scope is not broad enough to assist the many individuals in the community who could benefit from their expertise. 

We are calling for all police officers to have mandatory training on autism.  Please support this effort by signing this petition.  If you have a connection with someone with autism or are an individual with autism, please state that in the comments section.  If you have personal experience regarding police interaction involving an individual with autism, we would love for you to share it.

If you would like more information on the training of police officers, Families of Autism and Asperger’s Standing Together (FAAST) is an organization which is providing 4-hour, voluntary training on autism to law enforcement, firefighters, and EMTs.  Please contact James Vaughn at for more information. 

Your support is appreciated.


Curry, K., Posluszny, M. and Draska, S. (1993) Training Criminal Justice Personnel to Recognize Offenders with Disabilities. Washington, DC: Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services News In Print.

 AELE Law Enforcement Legal Center.  Police Interaction With Autistic Persons: The Need for Training.  2009 (7) AELE Mo. L. J. 101.

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