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Police, first responders learn how to help those with autism

Photo: Getty Images

OREM — Police officers and other first responders are learning how better to help children and adults with autism, through new training provided by Utah Valley University.

Orem Police Chief Gary Giles has a son with autism, so he knows how it can look very different from person-to-person.

“We could be a bit more patient with them, we can understand they may have panic attacks,” he said. “They may have sensory issues with the lights and sirens. They may get overwhelmed with the emotional side of things.”

Giles says officers, paramedics and EMTs who respond to a crash or other crisis need to know what signs to look for — and it’s becoming even more important, he says, with one in 54 Utah children now diagnosed with autism.

Early communication can be very helpful for children, he said.

“When you work with them when they are young, they understand who police officers are and that we are here to help,” Giles said.

For first responders, Giles said, knowing how a child or adult with autism may react can help them know how to proceed.

“For example, if someone is nonverbal. If I get there as a police officer and start talking to someone who is nonverbal, their silence I could take that as someone who is in contempt or not wanting to answer me,” Giles said, pointing out that recognizing it as a sign of possible autism could diffuse what could otherwise become a dangerous situation.


The training at UVU was provided free to first responders. Organizers said representatives from 12 police departments, the Utah Department of Corrections, six fire departments and a variety of schools, health care companies or hospitals and other stakeholders took advantage of the opportunity.