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Entire Burbank Police Department trains in Autism Awareness and Safety

Date: 2015-06-16
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Experience Autism program instructs police officers on how to recognize and safely respond to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The Burbank (CA) Police Department just completed a significant undertaking: training the entire department about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). More than one hundred personnel, including all sworn officers and many civilian employees, participated in simulation activities to help them recognize and understand ASD. The training helped officers understand the dynamics associated with autism. They learned to respond to the sensory and social-communication differences of individuals on the autism spectrum.

Patrol Captain Michael Albanese emphasized that autism awareness training for law enforcement is critical now that autism affects 1 in 68 children. Officers will have more contact with children and adults with autism.  Albanese said the training was “well worth the effort” to help officers learn to respond to the special needs of those with ASD and have more favorable outcomes.

The training simulations are part of the Experience Autism™ program designed by autism specialist Emily Iland. As the mother of a young man with ASD and a leader in the autism field, Iland is keenly aware of the risk that individuals with ASD and similar disabilities may face in emergency situations. Iland works with law enforcement organizations across the country to build empathy and understanding through hands-on learning activities.

“Once officers get an idea of what it feels like to have different features of autism, they can draw upon many strategies they already know to interact effectively,” Iland said. “Whether they are meeting someone on the spectrum who is a witness, a suspect, or someone who needs assistance, the training helps officers feel ready to respond.”

Officer Sean Toth of the Burbank PD has a daughter with autism and was enthused about leading the “Chaos” simulation to teach his peers about sensory overload. Officers listened attentively when Toth shared how autism affects his family, explained his daughter’s sensitivities to sound and touch, and offered suggestions about how to reduce sensory overload during contact.

Officers also learned about the vulnerability of this population due to the risk of wandering, drowning, and victimization. Sgt. Justin Meadows, Training Coordinator for the Burbank PD, was very affected by the recent death of a neighbor’s child with ASD, who went missing with tragic results.  This incident created a real sense of urgency to prepare officers to manage field interactions with this population. Meadows was excited to bring Experience Autism to his Department and was encouraged by the results saying, “After attending this training course and watching my department attend, I am much more confident that the Burbank officers are  better prepared for an encounter with someone with ASD.”

Concerns about problematic interactions between citizens and the police weigh heavily on the minds of people across the country. Representatives from several other police departments attended to see first-hand what the Experience Autism program is all about. Volunteers from the Autism Society of Los Angeles and the Special Needs Network assisted with the training.

About Experience Autism™
Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) are particularly vulnerable in police encounters and emergency situations due to features of their disorder. Experience Autism™ is an engaging hands-on training program that helps law enforcement professionals and other first responders recognize the signs of autism and respond to the needs of this population to improve outcomes for everyone involved.  This training prepares law enforcement for real-life contact with individuals with ASD.

Emily Iland, M.A., is an award-winning author, advocate, filmmaker, researcher, and leader in the autism field. As the mother of a young man with ASD, she brings personal experience and insight to her professional roles. Emily is the author of the Autism Society-Los Angeles Police Department Autism Awareness program that teaches police how to interact with people with autism. Emily has personally trained more than 4,000 police officers and sheriffs, and was selected as a Subject Matter Expert to help create California Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Autism Awareness Training Video for law enforcement professionals across the state. For more information visit:

- People, Places & Things/ (via Experience Autism, 6/15/15)



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