Share This Page

Aspinwall officer leads effort to ensure proper work with people with autism

| Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013, 7:24 p.m.

Scott Bailey wants to make sure his fellow police officers and first responders are trained to deal with people with autism.

Bailey, a part-time officer for Aspinwall and Millvale and also a 911 dispatcher for Allegheny County and the father of a child with autism, was one of several people to testify at a hearing on autism training last week.

State Rep. Dom Costa (D-21) oversaw the hearing in Sharpsburg. He was joined by State Reps. Frank Burns (D-72) and Robert Matzie (D-16) and state Sen. Randy Vulakovich (R-40).

With a growing number of children being diagnosed with autism, the need for officers to be trained in how to handle situations involving an autistic person has grown.

One option available is for residents to fill out a premise hazard form that can provide information to officers through their computer system when responding to a call. Bailey said that service needs to be better advertised so more people can take advantage of it.

Bailey also suggested special training for officers on understanding autism.

He also said work is needed at the judicial level.

“We're not looking for excuses, we're looking for fairness,” Bailey said.

He suggested a special autism court could be an option, but Tom Swan, deputy district attorney, said that idea did not receive much support.

Jessica Strong, founder and director of Strong Trainings, spoke about the need for mental health first aid and how people can better understand the experiences of someone with mental illnesses.

That help can go beyond just dealing with other individuals and can prevent problems from escalating, she said.

“It helps recognize symptoms that are developing in the person themselves and helps them seek help faster,” Strong said.

Kelly Wall, Montgomery County Pennsylvania Court of Common Pleas judge, said her court has focused on creating an autism awareness program. She said more children are being diagnosed with autism and many of them are likely to have interactions with the legal system.

“The court system must be prepared to deal with these numbers,” Wall said.

Bailey said legal cases involving autism often deserve special attention, especially when considering punishment or a jail sentence.

“They already have a life sentence and that life sentence is autism,” Bailey said.

Costa thanked the participants for their testimony and said it was a learning experience for himself and the other officials. He said there was still work to be done.

“We don't want to reinvent the wheel we just have to find a vehicle to put this all together,” Costa said.

Tom McGee is an associate editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-856-7400, ext. 1513 or tmcgee@tribweb.com.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.