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Police from Belmont, Hanson, Westminster and Plymouth mentor youth with Autism Spectrum Disorder at safety event

Fifteen peace officers from four local law enforcement agencies received specialized training about autism and related disabilities through the Experience Autism® program, the only evidence-based autism police training in the country. Officers experienced simulation activities to understand what it is like to have features of autism and learned how to interact effectively with individuals with autism and related conditions. The event was organized and supported by Organizational Development & Learning Solutions business group at UMass Donahue Institute and sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Developmental Services.

With the information fresh in their minds, each officer or deputy was then paired with an individual with exceptional needs at an Interactive Screening of BE SAFE the Movie. BE SAFE The movie shows how to interact safely with police officers in different everyday situations. After watching each BE SAFE movie scene, officers and their partners practiced life-saving skills such as asking for help and following instructions. As they were mentoring their partners, officers were also actively learning from them at this unique safety event.

One in 59 children is now diagnosed with autism. Children with autism are also growing up, with 50,000 turning 18 every year, and participating in community life more than ever before. Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are particularly vulnerable in police encounters and emergency situations due to features of the disorder. Even when the police are trained about disabilities, things can still go wrong if the person with a disability is unprepared for a police encounter. Teaching individuals with ASD and similar disabilities how to interact safely with the police is as critical as training the police about ASD, and this event accomplished both of those goals in a safe and relaxed setting.

“The activities we did were extremely helpful in understanding some of the struggles people with autism face that we take for granted,” one officer said. Officers also expressed that it was extremely beneficial to get to know community members with autism at the BE SAFE event. Another officer concluded, “This is hands down one the best ASD trainings I’ve attended.”

The event was facilitated by BE SAFE the Movie creator Emily Iland and her son Tom a self-advocate with ASD. “This BE SAFE event is positive, uplifting, and has the potential to save lives”, said Iland. “We saw officers at their best and witnessed relationships being built that bridge the gap between police and the disability community. This was an excellent opportunity to shine the light on people coming together to promote the safety of some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

The UMass Donahue Institute has worked with the Department of Developmental Services for over 20 years providing support for staff development programs as well as customized consulting services to support training needs for staff and the wider community.

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