Autism is a widely known but misunderstood spectrum of conditions that according to a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control affects one in 54 children, up from one in 125 in 2004.
Autism does not affect everyone who suffers from it in the same way or to the same degree. That is why it is said to be a spectrum of conditions. Characteristics of autism include persistent differences in communication, interpersonal relationships and social interaction across different environments, and restricted and repetitive behavior, patterns, activities and interests.
These characteristics and their related behaviors can become problematic for law enforcement officers and other first responders. An already tense situation can escalate into a crisis through no fault of the responder.
To help prevent this situation, the Community Mental Health Office for Central Michigan (CMHCM) office in Gladwin had the idea to create crisis response sensory kits that can be kept in the responder’s vehicles.
Each kit includes various manipulatives designed to help calm an individual with autism and deescalate situations before a crisis occurs. All of the local law enforcement agencies were receptive to the kit idea and the Gladwin County Sheriff’s Office asked for some training to help their personnel understand and deal with people with autism. CMHCM was willing to provide that training, which took place last Thursday (Sept. 30) at the Riverwalk Place in Gladwin.
CMHCM staff members Mary Schrier, Autism Supervisor; ShaVonne Brubaker, Supervisor; and Sara Miceli-Sorenson, Program Director provided the training, which included recognizing people with autism, the best way to use the kits, and vignettes to illustrate scenarios that first responders may encounter in the field.
The training was divided into two sessions to accommodate different shifts, 15-16 responders were registered for each session.