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Autism: Law enforcement learns how to interact

Sgt. Cory Sutton from the OU Police Department teaches classes on interacting with people with autism. (Source KSWO) Sgt. Cory Sutton from the OU Police Department teaches classes on interacting with people with autism. (Source KSWO)

DUNCAN, OK (KSWO) -The Stephens County Sheriff's Office is learning how to better interact with individuals living with autism.

The agency concluded a two-day seminar aimed at giving law enforcement officers, first responders and other community members the tools they need to recognize a person living with autism.

Autism is a neuro-developmental disorder that effects a person’s social and communication skills. They say many times, they're called to a situation where someone appears to be threatening, and for whatever reason disobeys an officer’s orders. If that person is autistic, they may not understand what is going on and in that case will need to be approached differently in order to ensure no one gets hurt.

Sergeant Cory Sutton, University of Oklahoma Police, doesn't have a child living with autism, but he does have a personal connection.

"A personal friend of mine and my wife's who's had three horrible experiences with law enforcement with her child, who is non-verbal, a wanderer and gets out. Law enforcement has not been real friendly to her and it just made me sick that my profession was doing this," Sgt. Sutton said.

So, he decided to start a training class to teach law enforcement officers how to identify a person with autism while out on patrol, while also showing them how to interact with that person more effectively.

"Say for instance, they teach the child what is your address and they learn their address that way. Well, I come up in the field and talk to them and if I don't use the term ‘what is your address,’ if I say ‘where do you live,’ the person may not be able to respond to that because he doesn't recognize that as the same as ‘what is your address?’" Sgt. Sutton explained.

Sgt. Sutton offered examples of the techniques he teaches in his training courses, should law enforcement or emergency personal encounter a person with autism.

"I highly stress if you can work with the care givers and the parents, the people who know the individual, they know best how to deal with the child. If they're in here with a meltdown, let them have the room. You don't have to involve yourself with getting hurt trying to contain them. Let them spin out they will eventually come down on their own, they have no choice. The body can't fight forever," Sgt. Sutton said.

Helpful pieces of information that Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney says will help his department if they ever face these situations.

"If they don't respond to police or command structure like you or I make, they need to be able to recognize that so the situation doesn't escalate to a point that someone gets hurt," Sheriff McKinney said.

It's that thinking Sgt. Sutton says he wants all parties involved to take away from this training.

"I want them to hopefully come back and say, ‘you know what, this situation is going south, but I recognize some of these things. Maybe I should try some of those techniques and de-escalate the situation,’" Sgt. Sutton said.

The two-day training wrapped up Tuesday. Sheriff McKinney says it was a part of the 24 hours of a specific focus training the department is required to have each year. 

Sgt. Sutton travels all around Oklahoma teaching law enforcement agencies about how to properly interact with individuals living with autism. 

Copyright 2016 KSWO. All rights reserved.

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