Glendale police learn the nuances of autism

Don Short and Tamara Mark's encounter with law enforcement hasn't always been positive, especially when they have been trying to care for their two autistic sons.

During a family trip in Hawaii, Short had to restrain one of the couple's son's — 10-year-old Harry, who is nonverbal and prone to injuring himself — because he became extremely agitated at a Honolulu airport. But to the public, his actions looked like child abuse. He was reported to airport police.

As Short tried to calm his son, police warned him to let go of his son. He reluctantly complied. His son ended up biting an officer on the knee. And it wasn't until after the scuffle that officers learned that Harry was autistic.

With similarly traumatic experiences behind them, the couple reached out to Glendale police on Tuesday to give officers insight into the challenges autistic children can pose in the field.

"For a long time, our life was like every single day we were slapped, kicked, bit and punched," Short said of his experiences with his sons, Harry, and Ian, 13.

Short and his wife were one of four speakers who participated in the Autism Speaks' training program aimed at providing police with a better understanding of people with autism and how to deal with them.

The organization's Los Angeles Chapter, which funds research for autism and resources for parents, held four sessions at the Police Department for officers.

Nearly all of a group of about 20 officers who attended Tuesday's meeting said they had responded to a call involving an autistic person.

Police are most often called to deal with a person with autism in escape and runaways incidents, said Kate Movius, project manager at Autism Speaks for the Autism Safety Program.

Law enforcement, she said, are seven times more likely to run into a person with autism than anyone else.

Movius advised officers responding to calls with an autistic person to speak slowly and assume a non-threatening stance. She also warned officers to be prepared for resistance because people with autism are often sensitive to touching.

Glendale Police Sgt. Robert Rosas stressed the importance of caregivers notifying officers in advance that they will be dealing with a person with autism.



-- Veronica Rocha, Times Community News


Twitter: @VeronicaRochaLA