ARIZONA NEWS

Phoenix autism advocates help create virtual training for police

May 4, 2020, 4:15 AM | Updated: 7:53 am
Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center...
(Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center Photo)
(Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center Photo)

PHOENIX — For both police officers and people with autism spectrum disorder, the unknown can cause anxiety.

Something out of order, out of routine or unpredictable can make a normal situation feel threatening.

“All around the country and even right in our own backyard in Arizona there have been challenges when law enforcement, police officers interacted with people with autism,” President of the Phoenix-based Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center Danny Openden told KTAR News 92.3 FM.

“Primarily, because police officers have not been given any adequate training on how to pick up signs and symptoms of autism.”

That’s why SARRC teamed up with VirTra, a Tempe-based video simulation company that makes law enforcement training videos.

“We got together to create these video training simulators so that police officers are not just getting educated on what autism is but more importantly are practicing the skills to interact with somebody with autism and get adequate feedback for doing that in as safe a way as possible,” Openden added.

The videos give law enforcement the chance to virtually interact with those on the spectrum, better detect when someone may have an autism spectrum disorder and work to calm these situations in a safe way.

The videos provide officers with a digitally immersive experience where actors interact with those taking the training.

“One of the coolest things about this project is that both SARRC and VirTra really committed to not only developing these video simulators but also using actual people with autism in the video simulators,” Openden explained.

“The reason why that’s so important is because we really want to capture and be as accurate as we can, but it also speaks directly to what many self-advocates with autism feel, which is, we shouldn’t be doing anything for people with autism without involving and including people with autism.”

The Arizona Department of Public Safety now has access to 10 different video simulations that deputies can access for continued learning at any time.

While the training is important step to train officers, SARRC also works to teach their students how to better interact with first responders.

Many of their students have been introduced to law enforcement, taught about compliance and when it is important to let first responders know about their diagnosis.

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Phoenix autism advocates help create virtual training for police