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How to Inform Police and/or First Responders that an Individual Has Autism Spectrum Disorder?

There is a strong chance that individuals with ASD may encounter police in their lives. Statistics shows that:

  • Individuals with ASD are 7 times more likely to intersect with the criminal justice system, either as victims or offenders (Berryessa, 2014).
  • 19.5% of youth with ASD have been stopped and questioned by police by the time they reached their early 20s. Of them, nearly 5% were subsequently arrested (Rava, Shattuck, Rast, & Roux, 2017).
  • Yet, the prevalence of actual unlawful behavior of individuals with ASD is relatively low (Woodbury-Smith & Dein, 2014).
  • Socio-emotional challenges present in ASD do not allow individuals to have an intent to purposefully harm another person (Berryessa, 2014; Freckelton, 2013; Woodbury-Smith & Dein, 2014).
  • Presence of co-morbid psychiatric disorders can be a strong underlying reason for offensive behaviors.
  • 20% of children with autism have been physically or sexually abused. However, justice personnel is not sufficiently ready to interact and advocate for these victims (Mandell et al., 2005)

Individuals with ASD have higher risks of victimization due to the nature of autism and the social environment, namely:

  • Reduced privacy
  • Lack of experience with decision-making
  • Lack of education about sexuality
  • Reduced expectations
  • Rewards for rule-following
  • Limited socialization
  • Negative attitude of others towards disability (Autism Speaks, n.d.)

Call 911 in case of emergency!

Visit CRISIS page for more information on the hotlines to report abuse.

Steps that you can take:

  1. Build awareness in the community and among police and first responders that an individual has ASD and therefore may not respond in an expected way.
  2. If possible, contact your community’s 911 office to let them know that there is an individual with ASD living in this community.
  3. Teach individuals about inappropriate touching and how to avoid it in public.
  4. Police are often being called at school for behavioral issues of older individuals with ASD. Be sure to address the issue in the child’s IEP as a protection. Also, help educate school resource officers on what to do (see example tag from HANDS in Autism® below.)
  5. HANDS in Autism® developed a number of resources to help inform the police and first responders (see examples below). Go to HANDSinAutism.IUPUI.edu for more information.
This Individual has Autism
Card to share with community members or during outbursts in public places:
I Have Autism Spectrum Disorder card for first responders
Wallet card to present to police or first responders:
Strategies that work
Strategies that Work
Alert Magnet for first responders with information about individuals that live in the house
Include this magnet in your home to help first responders
People with ASD may: Card
Here is an example of a card with ideas of what a security officer might expect.

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