Cullman County first responders receive training to help people with autism

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CULLMAN, Ala. (WHNT) – An encounter with law enforcement can be scary for anybody, but for people with autism, the experience is often intensified and too much to bear.

Cullman County first responders are spending the week learning how to interact with people with autism during an emergency situation.  Communication issues can intensify the stress of an emergency situation.

"At least 50 percent of individuals with autism do not have verbal skills and have a very hard time communicating, and even if they do, in emergency situations they may freeze or they may lash out in rages," said Rhonda Davis with the Autism Society of Alabama.

Lights and sirens can cause a sensory overload.

"It's not a matter of if these officers come into contact with somebody with autism, it's when," said training coordinator Dustin Chandler.

That's why law enforcement officials from across Cullman County are meeting this week to learn how individuals with autism respond to emergency situations and how they can help them through them.

"Autistic children are used to routines and if they get out of that routine or something is high stressful their behavior might change, they might try to run but they're not guilty of anything, they're just trying to get away from a sensory issue," said Chandler.

Cullman is just the third Alabama city to participate in this kind of training.