Florida bill requires autism spectrum police training

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Autism is becoming more common, in fact, there's a good chance you know someone on the autism spectrum. But it wasn't always that way. In the early 1990's Dennis Debbaudt was shopping with his son brad, a youngster on the autism spectrum. Something set Brad off, causing him to cry, kick and scream. Dennis a rushed him out of the mall. They were met in the parking lot by police who thought they were responding to a child being kidnapped.

"So that got me on the trail of finding out what materials existed for police about interacting with children and adults with autism," Dennis explained. "There wasn't any at that time."

After a few years of research and reaching out to both the law enforcement and autism communities, Dennis was invited to train the Detroit Police Department. Twenty-five years later, with the help of his now adult son Brad, they both train law enforcement on autism awareness.

"I have a rather mild form of autism," Brad said. "It is the kind where I'm able to talk to you. Where I could have been worse and not been able to talk."

Together they travel around the country, teaching police what to do when they encounter someone on the autism spectrum. Now both are supporting Florida Senate Bill 1352 outlining autism awareness training for law enforcement officers.

"If this passes it would put the gold star on the State of Florida's head here," Dennis said pointing at his forehead. "That would be terrific."

And Brad agrees, "It would be a very positive change knowing that that it'd be a much safer community for people like me."

Already some law enforcement and fire departments in our area are being trained for what to do when they encounter someone on the autism spectrum, and that's happening with more and more frequency as the number of those diagnosed with autism is increasing.

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