Experience Autism program helps officers 
recognize and respond to those with autism
Burbank, CA: June 15, 2015. The Burbank 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 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. He asked his fellow officers to take the training to heart, because autism does not only affect the public; many police officers also have a personal connection to autism.
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 encouraged by the result saying, “After attending this training course and watching my Department attend, I am much more confident that the Burbank officers are now 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. Doctoral students from Biola University conducted independent research on the effectiveness of the Experience Autism program.