Earlier this week Petersen spoke to 16 new police recruits about identifying children with disabilities and tools to improve communication for those who wander.
LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) — Cris Petersen and her son Maxwell, who has autism, got the chance to present facts to enhance Lincoln Police interactions with people who may have disabilities and children who may be prone to wandering.
Earlier this week Petersen spoke to 16 new police recruits about identifying children with disabilities and tools to improve communication for those who wander. Peterson quoted a Bureau of Justice statistic that 30 percent of all jail inmates reported a developmental disability. She says tell-signs are if they don’t make eye contact, look fidgety, and lack social cues.
“If an officer were to approach a person with a developmental disability, especially if they have an invisible disability, meaning you just can’t see what it looks like and they were to ask them some questions; it’s possible that person may run away may start some soothing behaviors which people would sometimes called stimming behaviors. That can be pulling hair, they could be very fidgety and could look impaired to an officer if they weren’t aware that this person had a developmental disability.”
Petersen says Maxwell, her son, set the perfect example, chatting with officers he knew, but became nonverbal in front of the room.
“No eye contact was being made,” said Petersen. “There was no communication whatsoever. So, it’s important to make that imprint in the officer’s mind that says ‘Okay so the child’s not maybe being non-compliant. This child is actually may be suffering from a developmental disability.’ You know in a situation where it’s high stress. I think we all know the officers can be stern and they can be like, you know, loud and direct, and that is not a response that would be effective for Maxwell or, you know, for people with developmental disabilities in general because they already are nervous in different and unique situations.”
She says tips like carrying candy, markers, and a blanket can all help a child or person with disabilities be able to stay calm and communicate. It’s important to note the department has an autistic safety program that works with local organizations.
Peterson says normally the event is bigger but for pandemic reasons, she and one other represented organizations for autism and disabilities in Lincoln. She says it’s powerful that the department is continuing to add tools to interact with the community and she looks forward to more events in the future.