Autism awareness training program for police in Greater Cincinnati
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Giving police more tools to make sure they have positive encounters with someone who's autistic is quickly becoming a priority at departments throughout Greater Cincinnati. That was evident Monday based on a Great Oaks Public Safety Services training event designed to build awareness and understanding.
The event featured simulations that helped police officers from departments like Delhi Township and Fairfield understand what the phrase 'sensory overload' means.
The goal of the training session was to help officers when they encounter someone who has autism.
That was the case for a little boy named Thomas, who was discovered walking along a dangerous road in Colerain Township, alone, last month. Police said Thomas' mother, Heather Adkins, dropped her son off and then drove away. Thomas is nonverbal making Monday's unrelated training event especially timely.
"Everybody is different. And a person with autism is different on different days," said Pamela Goines with the New Horizon Center for Autism.
Goines and her husband, Tom, are training instructors. They help police officers learn new ways to keep people with sensory overload issues safe.
During Monday's training session at Great Oaks called Safe Encounters, officers met high school students with autism, interactions designed to break down any potential barriers.
"It's pretty good to actually meet them, right?" Pamela Goines asked the group of students.
"I can be safe around them," an unidentified student said.
"Yeah, you can feel safe, right?" Goines said.
"That is absolutely the greatest part about this," said Paul Hartinger, public safety supervisor at Great Oaks. "The next time they have an encounter with an officer they're much more likely to be friendlier with them, you know. It's just, it feels comfortable to them."
For many of the high school students, Monday's event marked the first time they came face to face with a police officer. The conversations WLWT's Todd Dykes witnessed were robust and heartwarming — a good sign when it comes to building a safe and solid foundation for the future.
Similar training events are happening across the country as families who have loved ones with autism, along with police officers, recognize the need for more awareness and understanding.
The Goines also talked about a new database in Ohio. People diagnosed with communications disabilities can enroll in the database, so officers will know during a traffic stop if someone may have difficulty communicating with them.