Autism Spectrum Disorders

  • Autism is one type of disability within a range of developmental disabilities known as the Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs).
  • Many people with autism are extremely sensitive to sensory stimulation such as lights, noise and touch.

Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wish You Knew

Life Journey Through Autism: A Guide to Safety

"Aggression a Struggle for 1 in 2 with Autism" (Disability Scoop)

"Half of Children with Autism Wander, Study Says" (Huffington Post)

Autism Wandering Tips - National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Safety Concerns:

  • Inclination to wander
  • Attraction to bodies of water and pools
    • Drowning is the leading cause of death for an adult or child with autism
  • Often times, people with ASDs are only seeking out places of interest or comfort and do not understand the present danger or that they appear to be running away.

Signs & Symptoms:

  • May not understand what you say, disregard instructions or appear deaf
  • Fixated on a specific topic, ask repeated questions
  • Appear argumentative or stubborn
  • Say "No!" or "Yes!" to every question
  • Bluntness to the point of rudeness; speak in a monotone voice or inappropriate volume
  • Show an interest in particular objects, possibly your badge, keys, stethoscope or weapon
  • Not recognize your badge or uniform
  • Appear insensitive to pain
  • Become anxious or agitated and exhibit fight or flight responses or appear confused
  • React negatively to physical contact

Response & De-escalation Techniques:

  • Approach in a calm manner, speak softly, and avoid abrupt movements
  • Expect the person to violate conventional understanding of personal space by trying to stay either too close to you or a "safe" distance away.
  • Do not insist on eye contact
  • Seek information/assistance from others at the scene
  • Check for injuries
  • Use simple and direct instructions, repeat/rephrase statements, use sign language or pictures, and allow for a delayed response to questions or commands
  • Avoid slang or figurative expressions such as "Knock it off," "Cut it out" and "Are you pulling my leg?"
  • Avoid touching the person, use slow gestures
  • Find a quiet location to speak with the person – turn off lights/sirens and remove canines and crowds
  • Allow fascination/holding of an inanimate object to continue if possible
  • Do not stop repetitive or compulsive behaviors
  • Be alert to the possibility of an outburst or impulsive reaction – if the person is not endangering him or herself or anyone else, allow behaviors to subside. Use geographic containment – use of pepper spray may result in a sensory reaction and escalated behavior or, conversely, he or she may not react at all.
  • Do not react to what might appear to be disrespect – this may be their best attempt to communicate

When restraining someone with an ASD:

  • People with an ASD may have poorly developed upper trunk muscles. Physical restraint may cause positional asphyxia. Avoid a prone position and turn the person onto his or her side to allow normal breathing.
  • Monitor the person's condition frequently – the person may not recognize the futility of resistance and may continue to struggle
  • Be alert to health risks during high-stress situations as many people with autism have seizures, asthma, and/or heart conditions
  • Avoid standing too close or behind the person
  • Continue to use calming, de-escalation techniques
  • If transporting for care, notify the awaiting staff of the situation and request a private, quiet area be made available if possible
  • Do not place someone with an ASD with the general incarcerated population before an evaluation by a mental health professional

Sources: NYS Office for People with Developmental Disabilities; Autistic Services, Inc.