FAIRMONT, W.Va. (WBOY) – Police officers from north central West Virginia are training on how to better interact with people on the autism spectrum.  

On Tuesday, several officers went through the four-hour training process that’s put on by Pathfinders for Autism.

The training teaches officers how to identify characteristics of people with developmental disabilities, de-escalation techniques for situations involving people on the autism spectrum and more.

Police attend four-hour autism spectrum training (WBOY Image)

“This class is important because it helps officers identify people that might have a disability whereas they might have a missed perception that something else is happening. They might think that someone’s impaired where the actual case may be that they have a language processing disorder,” said Shelly McLaughlin, Pathfinders for Autism program director. 

In 2021, the West Virginia legislature passed a law to require autism training for all new officers that go through the police academy. This training allows more veteran officers to receive the same training that they did not get. 

“I just think it’s important because West Virginia could, through this training, become one of the first states that’s taken a comprehensive approach to training all the law enforcement officers. Whether it be state troopers, municipal officers or deputies, deputy sheriffs, university police,” Herb Linn, WVU Health Sciences Research Associate and principal investigator for Autism spectrum training said.  

Pathfinders for Autism is based out of Maryland. They have been holding these training sessions since 2012 in several states for many law enforcement officers including the NYPD and the Secret Service.  

“It’s being able to understand everybody’s unique differences, and how can we best work with those differences? How can we take a situation and not escalate things? Because we’re possibly not understanding what the individual is trying to communicate.” McLaughlin said. 

McLaughlin said the responsibilities shouldn’t just fall on the officers. The program also works with individuals with intellectual disabilities on how to be safe in the community and how to properly interact with police.  

“We have a program that’s mock traffic stops where both drivers and passengers with developmental disabilities practice being pulled over by police,” McLaughlin said. “That not only teaches them the practicalities of a police stop but it also gives them the opportunity to have interaction with police in a friendly, calm environment.” 

The program has four more training sessions open for law enforcement officers in north central West Virginia which can be found here.