At a recent police training session officers were told about the often delicate task of dealing with people who suffer from autism, a devastating neurological disorder that often strikes in childhood and that impairs one's ability to communicate and to relate to others, reports the New York Times. Officers were taught that turning off flashing lights and sirens on a police car could make the difference between a peaceful or chaotic encounter, and that if they asked someone with autism if they wanted to waive their rights, they might find that the person waved back at them.
People with developmental disabilities, including autism, have up to seven times more contact with law enforcement officers than others, said a 2001 article in the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. A co-author of the article, Dennis Debbaudt, led the training. The session, sponsored by Parents of Autistic Children, a nonprofit service group, featured videos, lectures, and the personal accounts of parents whose children have a form of autism. Debbaudt cited the case of Calvin Champion Jr., a 32-year-old man with autism who died in 2000 after Nashville police officers used pepper spray on him and subdued him. His family sued the police and the social service agency caring for him, and was awarded $4.4 million.