PRINCETON, Maine (NEWS CENTER) - They take an oath to uphold the law, but the role of law-enforcement continues to evolve with the times. That includes responding to calls involving people with developmental disabilities, like autism.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects 1 out of 88 children, including 1 in 54 boys. These staggering numbers mean that most first responders will more than likely encounter someone with autism, at some point.
Matt Brown will go anywhere in Maine to teach people about the country's fastest growing developmental disability. This training session is taking place in Washington County.
'I am here as a father with a child with autism, so this is intensely personal,' says Matt Brown a federal probation officer.
Before a crowd of police officers, border patrol agents, game wardens, firefighters, teachers and parents -- this federal probation officer is making his audience aware that people with autism have difficulty making eye contact and may not respond to questions. .
'People with autism have a lot of characteristics, especially to those in law enforcement, we can misinterpret very easily.
Is this guy on drugs? This guy is not looking at me in the eye, this guy is lying to me and not answering my questions, a simple question because he has a processing delay,' said Brown.
The training includes teaching officers how to approach a person with autism. Most are very sensitive to lights and sounds, especially sirens. The excessive input on their senses can lead to meltdown.
'When you are interacting with someone and you know they have autism, always be thinking about the scene, do we have too much noise, too many people?'
Others can't tolerate physical touch and have body space issues. Many are non-verbal or have limited communication skills, while some may repeat what is said to them.
'You have to be real real careful about what you say, they will take you literally if you say you going to get back to them in an minute and you take 62 seconds, you are going to have a problem.' said Brown.
People with autism, especially children can wander.
' So when you get that kind of call, these are life or death situations for sure I would want to know the water sources where you are, because that is where they tend to go,' said Brown.
The rate of autism has skyrocketed more than one-thousand percent since Brown toured the state a decade ago.
The training is now hitting close to home for some officers. Lt. Travis Willey of the Washington Co. Sheriff's Dept has a 13 year old son with autism. He says the training is key to helping his officers handle calls involving someone who has autism or is possibly high on bath salts because the behaviors can be similar.
'Here in Eastern and Central Maine, bath salts have been a big issue in the last year or so some of the symptoms and things, if we respond to a scene we need to be able to distinguish the difference,' said Lt. Willey.
Brown also encourages police departments and other agencies to create a data base listing children and adults with autism and other developmental disabilities. Parents fill out information about their children on a registration form which also has an updated photo.
parents are also asked to list on the registration form their child's favorite topic. A key piece of information that can be used by officers and first responders to help a person with autism calm down.
Registration forms are available on the Maine Autism Society's website: http://www.asmonline.org/programs_law.asp