Florida Tech program to teach police about autism

MELBOURNE, Fla. — Florida Tech's Scott Center for Autism Treatment is partnering with local law enforcement on how to better respond to calls involving autistic people.

That four-hour training session, which begins next month, will be just a start.

The Scott Center for Autism Treatment plans to allow law enforcement around the state to access the same training online.

“Individuals with autism have communications deficits, language deficits, they may not understand what they're being told, or the importance of the situation,” said Dr. Michael Kelley, the center’s executive director.

Kelley said part of the mission here is to help those who don't know about autism to understand it better. That includes members of law enforcement.

“They might encounter a situation with an individual with autism that might be very ambiguous. And the more prepared officers are, the more safe interaction may be,” said Kelley.

Kelley said he saw a prime example of that in North Miami, where a caregiver was recently shot trying to assist an autistic man. Rockledge police officers went through training involving autism 18 months ago.

The department is partnering with the center to offer similar training at the law enforcement academy on the campus of Eastern Florida State College.

“The best that we can do is hope (that) by recognizing some of the symptoms, we know to approach it differently,” said Lt. Donna Seyferth, of the Rockledge Police Department.

Richard Michael and his wife have 4-year-old triplets with autism. They're developing better communication skills at the Scott Center, but still run the spectrum.

“But if you could have it on the other end with law enforcement across the state becoming more sensitized to understand there may be things they don't come across, but may have to deal with because of autism,” Michael said.

The first session is scheduled for August 24.

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