POLICE OFFICERS AND OTHER FIRST RESPONDERS MAY ENCOUNTER OR BE ASKED TO PROVIDE SERVICES TO A PERSON WITH AUTISM SPECTRUM DISORDER. RECOGNIZING THE SIGNS OF AUTISM AND KNOWING EFFECTIVE WAYS TO APPROACH A PERSON ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM CAN MINIMIZE SITUATIONS OF RISK OR VICTIMIZATION OF THE INDIVIDUAL, AS WELL AS THE RISK TO THOSE INTERVENING.
Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have difficulty picking up social cues (social referencing) and understanding other individual’s thoughts and intentions, making them vulnerable to a range of crimes, from fraud and theft to more violent crimes. Individuals with ASD are also generally taught compliance from a very young age, making them easy targets for abuse and victimization. When assisting a crime victim who is on the autism spectrum, first responders should take specific actions to communicate with and support the individual.
Considerations for Police and other First Responders There will be many situations in which a person on the autism spectrum may encounter police. A survey of individuals with ASD and their families indicated that 35% of individuals with autism had been the victim of a crime and that 23% have had interactions with first responders due to wandering or eloping (Autism Society, 2006). When responding to situations involving individuals with ASD, officers should take into consideration that individuals with disabilities are often taught compliance – values and beliefs that affect behavior and social etiquette that may make them more vulnerable to victimization. Individuals on the autism spectrum may: