Plymouth Township Police officers receive specialized training on autism

Police in one Montgomery County community are getting specialized training designed to help them diffuse tense situations when they're dealing with adults or children with special needs.

July of last year, North Miami, Florida police shot and wound an unarmed therapist trying to help defuse tensions with his client with autism. January of this year, Bristol, England police used a taser on a man with autism who turned out to be confused by their commands.

Kristin Jackowski's 7-year-old daughter Navy Anna has autism and tries to run away when overstimulated. It's called 'elopement.' Jackowski is thrilled with what police in her community are doing to deal with special needs interactions.

"It gives you faith in humanity because they're doing this before there's a tragic situation. They're doing this proactively," she said.

Katie Greble, of the Center for Autism, trained Plymouth Township police officers on how to deal with men and women, boys and girls with autism in tense situations.

"If it's safe to do so, can you turn the lights off? Can you turn your radio down?" Greble said.

The autism spectrum is wide, but many with the disorder are easily overstimulated. A video shown to the officers makes the point.

"So maybe they're more mindful of how much noise they're bringing to the situation or how close they are standing or how much they are touching someone," Greble said.

And some with so-called ASD don't communicate verbally, which can create problems when full-grown adults-- like those receiving services at this Center for Autism classroom-- may appear to ignore police commands. Cops learn patience and understanding.

"It's just adopting our methods to meet the needs of the person," Lt. Karen Mabry who received training said.

With more than 1 in 60 boys and girls now diagnosed with autism this training is putting those on the front line in better position to help kids in need and adults in trouble.

"When there is a situation and they are taught to go to the helper. If they helper knows how to respond to what their needs are then that's a win-win overall," Jackowski said.