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Willing to teach, willing to learn

November 11, 2011

Witnessing, especially for the first time, someone deal with a violent autistic fit can be jarring, disconcerting and certainly confusing.

But when you add a mistaken emergency call for help and police response, the situation can quickly turn volatile.

So it was for Don Short and Tamara Mark, who had a less-than-understanding encounter with law enforcement in Hawaii when their autistic 10-year-old son became agitated and had to be restrained.

To the public, it looked abusive, so someone called the airport police, who demanded that Don Short release his son — who bit an officer on the knee in the ensuing scuffle.

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It’s misunderstandings like these that underscores the importance of organizations like Autism Speaks. The organization set Short and Mark up with a training session for Glendale police to teach officers how to better approach and interact with people with autism, especially during emergency situations.

Policing isn’t just about catching speeders or robbers. Sometimes, as Don Short and Tamara Mark found out in the Honolulu airport, it requires a more nuanced approach. And, thankfully, there are nonprofits willing to spread the word, and agencies like the Glendale Police Department that are willing to learn.

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