HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WBTW) — Horry County Police Department personnel will be getting new training to better serve people with autism.
Parents said this is long overdue, and the hope is that with this training, there will be fewer escalations and a better understanding between police and those with autism.
“When they’re under severe stress, they’re probably not [going to] present like the typical person,” said Rebecca Jeffreys, whose son has autism.
She said most people don’t understand that autism is a communication disorder.
“So when they are just trying to get through their daily lives, it’s hard to communicate,” she said. “It’s not uncommon for them to be accused of being on drugs, because it can look like that.”
That’s one reason she’s thankful for HCPD’s first-responder autism certification training program..
“First responder training is really important, because when police, a lot of times, deal with somebody with autism in a traffic stop or an accident, but specifically a traffic stop, is counterintuitive to their training,” said Becky Large, executive director of Champion Autism Network.
Large created the training program that uses online modules with videos, quizzes and other information. Using the information, HCPD officers and staff members will learn how to identify and handle encounters with people with autism.
“When we did live and on-site, we would create a situation and overwhelm so that people could kind of understand what people with autism wake up to every day,” Large said.
“For me as a parent, it’s super important to know that first responders in my hometown are prepared to be able to understand that and to recognize it and respond appropriately,” Jeffreys said.
In a statement, Horry County Police Chief Joseph Hill said:
“We are excited and appreciative of this opportunity to better educate and equip our officers to serve all who live in and visit Horry County.”
Large said the idea behind the training is simple.
“What we say throughout the training is just kind of being aware and leading with love,” Large said. “It’s not rocket science, you just have to be kind and patient.”
Meanwhile, HCPD is also rolling out a new project that includes giving out awareness stickers to community members. The stickers can be placed on car windows or home entrances to alert first responders to someone with special needs.