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Nassau authorities seek more training on autism

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice joined members

Nassau County District Attorney Kathleen Rice joined members of the autism community to call on emergency responders to further educate their personnel on the signs and characteristics of autism and other developmental disabilities. (April 29, 2010) Photo Credit: Photo by ULI SEIT

Nassau authorities, spurred by the recent death of an unarmed autistic man who charged police in Los Angeles and was fatally shot, want more training for local emergency responders to ensure they recognize the symptoms of autism.

Last month, Los Angeles police officers fatally shot Steven Eugene Washington after he was seen acting suspiciously and touching his waistband, then charged at police officers when they spoke to him, according to reports of the shooting.

Lisa Goring, director of family services for the Manhattan-based organization Autism Speaks, said autism's prevalence in America means there will be more contact between law enforcement and autistic people.

One in 110 U.S. children are diagnosed with autism, she said.

"We will have more and more interaction with first responders," Goring said and asked that law enforcement learn more about the disorder.

Goring and Nassau officials held a news conference in Mineola Thursday to throw a spotlight on the issue.

Nassau Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey said by telephone that officers who go through the police academy are trained specifically to work with autistic people.

The training focuses on how to communicate, he said.

"You don't want to close their space. You don't want to be too loud. You want to communicate," he said.

Nassau County Fire Marshal Division Supervisor Vincent McManus said emergency personnel need to know how to communicate with autistic people.

"We need to recognize the signs and symptoms," he said.

Nassau District Attorney Kathleen Rice praised county police and first-responders for incorporating specific training into their education, and asked for local village police and first-responders to do the same.

Suffolk police also undergo training while in service and at the police academy to learn about working with autistic people, a police spokeswoman said.

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