Despite all of the advances in the country’s understanding of autism, students diagnosed with autism are at a heightened risk during unplanned interactions with the police officers. We need to make sure that our students are as prepared as possible to handle it. Here’s are some ideas to prepare our students.
Interactions with the police officers or security can come up at the airport, mall, job, out in the community, etc. Students need to be prepared for both emergency and non-emergency situations beyond just calling 911.
Students need a way to to communicate their personal information such as name, a phone number of a trusted adult, medical needs, etc. Many students don’t have the communication capabilities to do so verbally. Come up with a plan with the family or caregiver on how that will be communicated. Here are some ideas:
- An ID tag worn by the student
- Have an identification card in a pocket or wallet
- Present police officers with a emergency card
- Use a device to communicate
Work with the family to decide if the student will be disclosing his or her disability. While it is a personal decision, it can be very helpful information.
Plan for providing information to police officers
How the personal information or disclosure of disability will look different in emergency versus non-emergency situations. Students need to be able to present the police officers or security with the info in a way that doesn’t involve sudden movements or heighten the interaction.
- Teach students to ask permission to reach into pockets, purses or bags before they begin to retrieve any ID or emergency cards.
- If students are disclosing their disability, it may be helpful to start with that statement. It may help the officer better understand sudden or repetitive movements.
skills to teach for interactions with police Officers
- Teach students coping skills that they will need to stay calm during these interactions. Practice, practice, practice these skills to make it easier for students to use during stress or tense situations.
- Work on limiting repetitive or sudden movements. Loop in your OT to help address any underlying sensory issues. Could a sensory diet help reduce the movements? If so, teach students to complete the sensory diet daily even when s/he isn’t in school.
- Teach students not to run. If they run, the police officers will be forced to chase & catch them even if they know about the disability.
Ways to teach the skills
- Role play in the classroom and home where the student is most comfortable.
- Once the student is doing well with class/home role playing, change the setting. Try role playing in a place where an emergency or non-emergency interaction may happen.
- Practice role playing with a police officer or security officer. It will help all of the people involved better understand each other.
- Social stories are great for building understanding.
- Lots and lots of visual supports!!
Tools that may be helpful
- Read more tips to teach safety skills HERE.
- Spectrum Support has several free resources to help students be prepared and better understand racism.
- Use this article as a jumping off point to working with your local police station to train police officers.
- Read this article from Researchautism.com for more tips on helping students stay safe and calm.
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