Behavior Therapy Education for Police Reduces Misunderstandings

By Matthew J. Delaney, MSW, BCBA

Director of Applied Behavior Analysis

If you have tuned into the news recently, you are well aware of the behavior therapist in Miami who was shot by law enforcement as he was trying to bring his client who has autism back to the group home from which he had wandered. The video footage going viral on social media shows a behavior therapist with his hands up pleading with the man with autism to remain still and to lie down on the ground for fear that the police will shoot if he does not comply. The 23 year-old man with autism holding a toy truck continues to rock back and forth not adhering to the therapist’s request.

The fact that the individual did not comply with the demands of his therapist, and likely the demands of law enforcement, placed him at significant risk for harm. While many details will come out in the next few days regarding this unfortunate event, I think it is a great opportunity to spark discussion about the need for greater collaboration’ between behavior analysts and our law enforcement community in an effort to prevent events like this from reoccurring.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration funded a global initiative called Mental Health First Aid. The premise behind this initiative is that if an individual had a heart attack in a public venue, it is likely a witness in the community could come and provide CPR. However, if an individual was contemplating suicide or having a panic attack, the odds are less likely that a bystander would know how to adequately respond. These trainings are open to anyone, but are particularly marketed toward law enforcement and our first responders.

While this initiative is meeting a huge need within the mental health community, it does not address information and techniques specific to individuals with autism and related disorders. Similar to this initiative, there is an urgent need for behavior analysts to partner with first responders to provide training on the many presentations of autism symptoms and train law enforcement agencies on ways to interact with individuals who may have autism or related disorders that protects them from further escalation or harm.

Keystone Behavioral Pediatrics is eager to partner with law enforcement and other first responders in the Jacksonville community. We will provide educational training sessions as a community service to help empower these professionals with the tools and knowledge necessary to work with individuals with autism and related disorders.

We take seriously our role as advocates for the children and young adults we serve, and, in that role, we hope to build lasting partnerships with Jacksonville’s first responders and be a community resource for education and training on working with individuals with autism and related disorders.

You may contact Matt Delaney, 904.619.6071, delaney@keystonebehavioral.com, to discuss a potential educational training session or other ways that we may be helpful.

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