Sometimes a little understanding goes a long way. A few years ago, Liz Linehan was going door to door, campaigning for state representative in a district that includes parts of Cheshire and Wallingford, when she learned from a mother about how those on the autism spectrum could encounter difficult situations with police. It led to a system in which blue envelopes can help officers recognize behavior that otherwise could be interpreted as noncooperative.
Now, thanks to the efforts of a Wallingford mother, town police, firefighters and other emergency responders are working with Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center to gain a better understanding of those on the autism spectrum.
Those on the spectrum can present behavior that can be misinterpreted by police. Conditions characterizing autism’s broad range include challenges with social skills, repetitive behavior, speech and non-verbal communication, according to the advocacy group Autism Speaks.
Training for first responders includes a two-hour presentation. Aimee Turner, director of special education for Wallingford schools, told the Record-Journal the presentation is by a police officer who has a child with autism, allowing a perspective from both a parent and officer. “He is able to give them practical advice and strategies that they can use.”
Cindy Sigovitch’s son, Jack, who is 12, offered his own observations about behaviors that could be misinterpreted. That advice included not leaving what is said to interpretation “because most of the time they cannot understand social norms. To to use clear and direct speech without being condescending.”
That’s good advice for anyone, as well as for those first responders who might encounter those with autism in emergency situations. What’s important about such understanding is that it can help reduce outcomes that could turn unintended, or even tragic.
About a dozen officers are expected to be trained this year. Police Chief William Wright said it’s part of efforts to keep good relations with all aspects of the community.
An approach that is inclusive and promotes greater understanding is worth supporting. If it’s taken up beyond Wallingford all the better.