Cheshire Police received a distress call from a woman. The voice on the other end of the line said that someone was holding an ax outside her home. The police immediately sprang into action and geared up for the stressful situation at hand.
However, one of the officers quickly analysed the use of the word “ax.” It is a term used to signify a nonverbal person; in other words, the person in question is autistic. This timely revelation helped them to adjust their response. An officer from Cheshire Police Department, Jeffrey Falk, noted what could have happened had the officers not been trained to identify ASD.
“You’re facing a potential deadly force situation if you don’t know and he’s keeping (the ax) contained and he comes charging at you,” Falk said.
Reps. Cathy Abercrombie and Liz Linehan, D-Meriden and D-Cheshire respectively, have proposed legislation. The sole purpose of this proposal is to create a uniform training program for the entire force that could help them respond to autism cases effectively.
The bill caused a response as the bill was in process on Thursday, highlighting the way Cheshire Law enforcers handled the situation involving Logan Gibbons, age 15, who had run away from his home in Southington and reached Cheshire early in September.
The aim of the bill is to establish a program that is designed to help officers identify individuals on the spectrum, as well as to respond to the threat, if any, that they should come across, including how to deal with it appropriately, Linehan said.
Autistic people can have a variety of reactions in social situations, and sometimes they can’t communicate or avoid eye contact. Stephanie Gibbons, Logan’s mother, says that during times such as these, autistic children might charge at others. Although this happens out of fear, sometimes it is mistaken for an intention to hurt others.
She appreciates the initiatives being taken and the need for the program, saying it is the need of the hour and will help first-time responders to treat these kids as harmless, rather than as a threat.
“It’s just—they’re scared of anything, these kids,” Stephanie Gibbons said Thursday.
Linehan further states that in addition to training the force, having a registry with names of children with ASD will also be beneficial and would assist them to quickly identify the individuals when they run away.
Falk said that the police at Cheshire have already started compiling the registry and parents are volunteering for support. They also include the children’s interests, which could be used to develop a rapport, should the need arise.
The bill received immense support from both the Police Officers Association of Connecticut and parents. As many as 1,200 officers from 22 municipalities took part.
The association stated in a brief written testimony that its members “recognize that people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) often face significant challenges in social and community settings.”
Logan’s mother said that he runs away from home occasionally and that this is a cause of her worry.
However, a clinical psychologist says that nearly 50 percent of children on the autism spectrum wander away from their homes regularly. Another worrisome behaviour among autistic children is that they are easily drawn towards water.
Abercrombie says that although many of the police departments around the state have some form of training in place, having a bill such as this would ensure everyone is on the same page and using a more formalized process.
, she said.
Nevertheless, the disappearance of a child is disturbing as well as frightening, says Stephanie Gibbons. The fear gains more ground when the child in question is autistic, and it involves a lot of uncertainties concerning the child’s reaction toward strangers.
“It’s sad, it’s horrible, because you don’t want it to end in death,” Gibbons said.
Linehan, who said she joined in the search for Logan after learning of his disappearance in September, agreed.