Friday, October 14, 2011

Police Autism Database a Step in the Right Direction

The Windsor police have partnered with Autism Services Inc. to create an online registry that will help give quick access to detailed information about how to deal with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) during emergencies. It is modeled after the registry that was created in Ottawa in 2010 and is to be updated annually in order to keep the information current.

People living with an ASD develop differently from others in the areas of motor, language, cognitive and social skills. Each person with an ASD is unique and will have different abilities but often there are problems communicating and ritualistic actions involved with an ASD. This means that police officers may encounter someone displaying erratic, repetitive behaviour that seemingly refuses to listen or communicate with them. This has caused huge problems in how these officers choose to handle the situation, especially if they do not recognize these as signs of autism. With the creation of the registry, residents that live within the Windsor policing jurisdiction can fill out forms that can be used to inform police how their child communicates, what their particular triggers are, and how best to approach them in order to get them to co-operate.
This is particularly important for use with the number of children with ASD that wander off and need police assistance but it is also important given situations that have been seen in the media lately. In August of this year, Toronto police became involved with a situation with a 9-year old boy with ASD in a daycare centre because he had become uncontrollable in a classroom. After ordering the boy to lie down on the ground, which he complied with, they handcuffed him until he calmed down. Many saw this as a highly inappropriate response. Given the fact that children with autism remember patterns so precisely, a damaging interaction with police like this can traumatize them and affect any interactions with police officers in the future. It is uncertain whether a registry would have helped in the situation. Likely, even more in depth training is required for police officers in dealing with people with ASD and other similar disorders.

In light of these events, should every police service be required to have an Autism Registry? Is this enough or should there be more detailed mandatory training involved?

Posted by Melissa Crowley (Windsor Law II)

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