Kirsten Scheil: An Exploration of Law Enforcement Officers' Training Needs and Interactions with Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Campbell, Jonathan (PI)

Grants and Contracts Details


Brief description of Project: Given that the current prevalence rate of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is now estimated at 1 in 68 (CDC, 2014), the likelihood that law enforcement officers (LEOs) will come into contact with individuals with ASD is increasing, especially as children with ASD grow into adulthood. According to a recent study, one in five individuals with ASD will be stopped and questioned by the police at least once by the time they are in their mid-twenties (Rava et al., 2017). Despite the increased interactions between LEOs and persons with ASD, results from a few studies reveal that LEOs are often not knowledgeable about ASD and report concerns about appropriately handling situations involving persons with ASD (Chown, 2009; Crane et al., 2016). The lack of appropriate support to individuals with ASD could potentially lead to emotional stress, breakdowns in communication abilities, and behavioral regulation difficulties. However, misinterpretation of behaviors during high-stress or tense situations can be improved with proper training, education, and through increasing interactions with persons with ASD in commonplace settings (Chown, 2009). Currently, little is known about existing ASD-specific law enforcement trainings, LEOs’ training needs related to ASD, or interactions between LEOs and individuals with ASD community. Because few research studies have focused on these topics, people who develop police training guidelines and strategies have been left guessing on how to best support LEOs’ interactions with individuals with ASD. In response to this gap in the literature, I propose utilizing an exploratory study to examine the perspectives of multiple stakeholders, including LEOs, adults with ASD, and caregivers of individuals with ASD. Semi-structured individual interviews will be employed to (a) characterize LEOs’ knowledge of ASD, (b) understand previous interactions between LEOs with individuals with ASD, and (c) identify training needs to best prepare LEOs for interactions with individuals with ASD. In the study, the following participants will be interviewed individually: 3-4 LEOs, 3-4 adults with ASD, and 3-4 caregivers. Given the importance of including the ASD community in research (Pellicano, Dinsmore, & Charman, 2014), I plan to gain input from individuals with ASD and caregivers rather than information solely from LEOs. Results will identify gaps in LEOs’ ability to recognize and respond to the needs of individuals with ASD. Overall, the purpose of understanding these prior interactions and training experiences is to identify LEOs’ current ASD-related training needs and inform the development of ASD-specific trainings currently being developed and used in communities nationwide.
Effective start/end date2/26/1812/31/18