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Hundreds of NJ law enforcement officers to get autism awareness training this week

Photo Credit: Cliffview Pilot File Photo

PUBLIC SAFETY: More than 450 New Jersey law-enforcement officers from 150 or so departments will participate in one of two day-long autism recognition and awareness training sessions this week, one of which will be held at Bergen Community College.

Sponsored by the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey, “Autism and Law Enforcement: Recognition, Response and Risk Management” will be held tomorrow at BCC in Paramus, following a similar session today at Brookdale Community College in Middletown.

Autism/law enforcement trainer Dennis Debbaudt, who is conducting the sessions, said he aims to identify various scenarios that people diagnosed across the autism spectrum could become involved in — and discuss ways in which officers and first responders can best react.

Emergency situations are stressful enough. But tensions can be heightened when someone doesn’t respond, cannot understand commands or directions or is agitated by lights, sirens or large numbers of people.

Those with autism could also appear to be under the influence when they are merely responding out of fear, confusion or frustration. They also do better one-on-one.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines afflictions of autism spectrum disorder (or ASD) as developmental brain disorders, with the term “spectrum” referring to a wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of impairment or disability that those with an ASD can have.

“Recognition of the behavioral symptoms of individuals on the autism spectrum and the teaching of techniques of approach can greatly reduce risk factors to both the individual and the first responders,” said Hunterdon County Prosecutor Anthony P. Kearns III, president of the County Prosecutors Association of New Jersey.

“Autism is also the fastest-growing American developmental disability, with an estimated rate of one in 88 births nationally, but estimated even higher in New Jersey at 1 in 49 births,” Kearns said. “For this reason, it is becoming more and more probable that our law-enforcement officers will come in contact with children and adults with autism.

“We want our officers to be responsive and understanding while safely handling situations they encounter.”

The Union County Prosecutor’s Office is coordinating the program, which was launched a year ago with 300 law-enforcement officers from more than 100 departments undergoing training at Union County College in Cranford.

“Being able to recognize signs of autism is an absolute imperative for those working in law enforcement,” said acting Union County Prosecutor Grace H. Park, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney. “It can prevent misunderstandings, forge stronger ties between police and the communities they serve, and even save lives.”

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