Autism and Law Enforcement – Part 1

Why is it important to discuss autism and law enforcement?

Individuals on the autism spectrum sometimes struggle to communicate and/or interact within the community. They can panic and appear nervous.

It is the job of law enforcement to contain a situation and/or prevent a crime.

If a law enforcement representative cannot recognize the signs/common attributes of a typical ASD individual, the person may respond with some level of force.

Why is this important?

Because incidents have led to confusion and in rare cases arrests and/or injury.

Training programs for law enforcement have become more commonplace in recent years.


To teach a law enforcement representative what signs to look for in determining if an individual is on the spectrum.

This is important to avoid unnecessary confusion, and avoid potential deadly reactions for either the individual or the law enforcement representative.

Ideally, the law enforcement personnel can see a sign, something that he or she recognizes as typically an autism-related reaction, and adjust accordingly.

Why is this important?

Because individuals with an ASD do not always react in a “socially accepted” way. They often get stressed much quicker than typical individuals and/or may not understand what is being said to them and why. They may be told to lie on the ground, and then panic and shake their hands instead.

They have reactions that are different, and these reactions need to be recognized by law enforcement.

What could a situation look like?

Let’s say a young adult with an ASD is pulled over or confronted by a police officer. In this situation, stress may happen sooner with this individual, and with more force than the law enforcement representative feels comfortable with.

In many situations, this person typically has an opportunity to regulate their body. Walking fast, flapping, hand clapping, putting their hands over their ears, etc. They can take care of themselves.

And, in stressful situations, they’ll typically react in a similar manner. They will try to regulate their bodies.

However, does a law enforcement representative understand this? Can they recognize the difference between an aggressive action and a person who is simply trying to regulate their body?

Can a law enforcement representative recognize the difference between a stressed, de-regulated ASD child, teen, or adult and someone who is acting aggressively?

They can, with the proper training. The situations can be improved.

In my next blog, I will discuss my own child when it comes to law enforcement interactions.

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