Autism expert takes questions from Channel 9 viewers about law enforcement training

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ORLANDO, Fla. - Stephanie Cooper, a former law enforcement officer and mother of an autistic son, has started the Autism Law Enforcement Response Training Corp. to help train emergency personnel on how to interact with someone in the autism spectrum.

The group is a non-profit that provides free autism training and sensory kits to law enforcement agencies throughout the country.

On Monday, she sat down with Channel 9’s Greg Warmoth to talk about the training and her personal experiences, and take questions from viewers.

Autistic behavior can be mistaken for aggression. Do the officers know the difference?

“That is what I teach them. In fact, I actually have individuals on the autism spectrum ranging from mild to high-functioning to severe, come in to all my training classes.”

Does autism have “a look?”

“There is no look to autism. It’s different behaviors and characteristics. I’ve had some officers go, ‘Well, so we do this for this call?’ And I say, ‘Yes, you can. But it won’t work for the next call.’”

How do I know if my child has autism?

“My advice is if they’re not sure, go and see a developmental pediatrician. Do have the child tested. It doesn’t hurt (and) the earlier the diagnosis, the sooner you can start treatment for that child, the more they can progress.”

What if your autistic child is afraid of police officers?

“My advice is to bring them down to the police station. It’s kind of like having a haircut. They’re always afraid of their first haircut. (It’s the) same thing. Bring them down to the police station. I’ve never had an officer say that (they) mind that.”

Why is autism training not mandatory for all law enforcement departments?

“It should be. Honestly, it should be. I think the state of Florida is trying to make it mandatory. I think they’re working on a bill right now for that.”

See Monday's full Q&A below:

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