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Advocates: Police need training on autism

March 20, 2012 at 5:09 PM
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DETROIT, March 20 (UPI) -- The arrest of an autistic teenager who could face four years in a Michigan prison shows the need to train police on dealing with autistic people, advocates say.

Zachary Maxson, 17, has been charged with misdemeanor domestic violence for attacking his father, The Detroit News reported. But he also faces two counts of resisting and obstructing a police officer for allegedly attacking a female Jackson County sheriff's deputy with nail clippers.

Dennis Debbaudt, who has an autistic son, founded Autism Risk & Safety, which trains police agencies. He said many people with autism simply do not understand the police "role in society."

"There's a reason law enforcement drives marked vehicles and wears uniforms. They want people to know they're the police," Debbaudt said. "But here's a segment of the population that doesn't know that."

Michael Dungan, Maxson's lawyer, said police training can actually escalate a situation with an autistic person. In Maxson's case, Dungan said, he only became violent Feb. 9 when officers tried to handcuff him, and he was then stunned with a Taser and pepper-sprayed.

Debbaudt said he teaches police officers how to recognize autistics and to give them "time and space" so incidents don't become more violent than necessary. He said family members also have a responsibility to be open about autism.

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