FORT MYERS, Fla. The Florida Senate is expected to vote Thursday on a bill that could put officers on the front line of autism training.
The measure would require all law enforcement officers in the state to take part in training to better deal with people who have autism spectrum disorder.
This push for legislation in Florida comes after a shooting in North Miami last year. An officer wounded an autistic man’s caretaker, who was trying to get his patient back to a facility from where he wandered.
Autistic mannerisms can often be misconstrued, and the bill would help officers understand the signs. The Florida House already passed its version of the bill.
Sandra Worth, the president of a Southwest Florida autism support group, believes simple training could help defuse a situation. Worth has a son with autism and her husband is a police officer.
“For law enforcement officials, they need to understand that they have to have a different approach,” she said.
Worth’s group, My Autism Connection in Southwest Florida, works with adults who have high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome. The group collaborates with federal agencies to broaden awareness nationwide.
Worth simulates traffic stops in cooperation with the Lee County Sheriff’s Office.
Jake Edwards, 14, is the leader of a similar program in Maryland called The World According to Jake. His effort in the cause made Maryland the first state to require law enforcement officers to take autism awareness training.