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Police Need Training Dealing With Autistic Individuals
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July 2017: in the upscale neighborhood of Verrado in Buckeye, Arizona, teenager Connor Leibel was left to play in one of his favorite parks while his caretaker, Ms. Diane Craglow, ran a quick errand nearby. When Ms. Craglow returned, she was horrified to find Connor screaming, pinned to the ground while being detained by a frustrated police officer, David Grossman. Connor had done nothing wrong.


Though Grossman certified drug recognition expert, he mistook Connor’s stimming -- an autistic individual’s repetitive movements used as a way to cope with mounting anxiety in stressful situations -- for signs of drug intoxication, launching Connor’s average day at the park into a dramatic scene as eight other officers appeared as Grossman’s backup.

A year earlier, in Miami, Florida, a similar situation arose as an autistic man named Arnaldo Rios left his group home to play with a shiny toy truck in the street. After a while, he found himself opposite an unaware officer’s gun barrel after a bystander had reported sight of an “armed and suicidal man”. Another officer with no recognition of autistic tendencies and impulsive behavior on the job, the officer fired at Rios, narrowly missing him but instead injuring Rios’ behavioral therapist, a man named Charles Kinsey, who was trying to calm him down (both survived).




NOTE: to watch a brief video in which an autistic boy explains autism, mouse over the timestamp in the video above and scroll to the yellow line. These two videos were combined into one using the ThingLink tool.


How can I use this event in class?


  1. What would your reaction be if you encountered someone doing this "stimming" action? (especially if you have never encountered this before)
  2. Consider having your students act as role players and perform in semi-scripted roles that incorporate elements of case law or a controversial current event like this one.
  3. In the cases described here, it might be helpful to bring in other subject matter experts to fill in the knowledge gaps.
  4. Consultants from law enforcement and the mental health community can drive a deeper understanding of how scenario-based learning can be realistic and, ultimately, useful to students.


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1 Comment
Valued Contributor

While I absolutely agree that police need training in identifying and appropriately dealing with individuals with mental, physical, and psychological illness or disabilities, I think it's important to realize that it is one more thing we are adding to the typical police officer's list of responsibilities. 


  • Know and enforce the local laws
  • Know and perform the police procedures to standard...every time
  • Know and correctly execute the appropriate protocol for every call for service
  • Know and be vigilant for exisiting offenders at large
  • Know and be prepared to render emergency assistance to any agency, that requests it
  • Without error be prepared to engage with hostile and potentially dangerous persons daily
  • Without error prepare written reports of every incident before the end of shift
  • Without error provide flawless testimony as to events that happened weeks or months previously

Etc, etc, ... 


As a retired law enforcement professional, I know all too well how easy it is for others to judge our actions based on their understanding and perspective of a given situation. Don't misunderstand my comment - I'm not justifying sloppy, inadequate, unprofessional, or poor policing; I'm merely pointing out that there are very few professions that ask as much from its members as the public safety industry (police, fire, ems, military). So adding one more requirement, while well meaning, may not be the best approach. 


Perhaps that's why states like Missouri have seen a steady decline in police officer recruitment and retention. 


Thanks for allowing me to share my perspective.