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
"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
- 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.