Austism program benefits officers
Press Journal - 9/19/2017
INDIAN RIVER COUNTY – School resource officers from the Sheriff's Office have a new tool when dealing with children diagnosed with autism.
Ten officers joined with behavioral health specialists from Indian River Medical Center and the School District of Indian River County for a program that teaches them how to deal with the types of behavior autistic children may display while at school.
Theresa Prescott, a psychologist at the Behavioral Health Center at IRMC, said the priority of both school personnel and the school resource officer is to protect a students' safety first and foremost.
"Asking a question as simple as 'how can I help you?' could be the most powerful five words used when a student is acting out," said Prescott.
Police officers often are the first on the scene of an emergency in a school building, making it crucial that officers have a working knowledge of autism and the wide variety of behaviors children with autism can exhibit in emergency situations.
"I think the most important thing we learned is to be patient," said Indian River County Sheriff's Detective Ross Partee. "People who are on the autism spectrum or with some other mental health disorder often have trouble communicating. That's why it's so important to be patient with them or it could make a situation go from bad to worse."
Brandi Cross, a charge nurse at the Behavioral Health Center at IRMC, said the program taught school resource officers ways to identify children with autism and strategies they can utilize when approaching someone with autism spectrum disorder.
"Some children with autism have poor social skills so it's important for officers to approach them in a certain way," said Cross. "They could display some anxiousness or nervousness in certain situations, so officers need to know what to look for when they approach someone with autism."
It's the first time IRMC, the School District and the Sheriff's Office have collaborated on a program specifically dealing with autistic children, according to Margaret O'Rourke, nurse manager at the Behavioral Health Center at IRMC.
"This was an incredible first step to work with school resource officers and guidance counselors to provide the best outcomes for children in our community with behavioral health needs," said O'Rourke.
Christina Jacobs, program specialist for Psychological and Behavioral Services with the school district, said she hopes the training will pay big dividends for children and their families.
"The training provided vital information related to the unique needs of individuals with autism spectrum disorders, and also offered an invaluable opportunity for various professionals to engage in productive dialogue in relation to supporting the mental health needs of youth in our community," said Jacobs.