CLEVELAND — A new program is helping train officers in dealing with those with autism. The training is not required by any Ohio law.
According to the National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability reports, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to have an encounter with a law enforcement officer and are twice as likely to be victims of violent crime.
Twice a month, students ages five to 22 meet at the Cleveland Clinic's Learner School forAutism.
“They need us, they need us,” said Corporal Nicole Drayton with the Cleveland Clinic Police Department.
The chartered non-public school gives students the resources and confidence to overcome their personal battles.
“So many of our kids fear something new, fear something that's different,” said Michelle Schmidt, Coordinator of Educational Services at the Cleveland Clinic.
The school's staff is aware of that fear, especially when it involves the police.
“Police officers frequently come when there is an emergency situation and some of our kids may not understand those things,” said Schmidt.
It's why the staff is now bringing officers into the classroom as part of a new program, so new, it doesn't even have a name.
“When we're training to deal with them, we're training to deal with them when they're in crisis,” said Drayton. “They are looking forward to having us and we're looking forward to going. So I think that's what surprised me most.”
The officers that volunteer are spending time and having fun with the students, teaching them about safety, how to ask for help and how to identify different officers.
“We have to train to engage, interact and embrace as well,” said Drayton.
The officers learn as well.
“We have some kiddos who communicate with and who are nonverbal or communicate with gestures or with a speech-generating device. And so the officers have been able to just have them have experiences communicating with our kids in those different ways,”
The experience is so vital for both sides, the school hopes other local communities take on similar programs and make it part of officer training as a way to help those with autism thrive no matter the real-life circumstances they encounter.
“They’ve made a lasting impact on us,” said Drayton. “They're a sensitive community, but they're a loving community and having the ability to interact with them, no matter what part of the spectrum that they are on is a lovely thing.”