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Police Officers Are Being Trained To Better Handle People With Autism And Mental Health Issues Using Virtual Reality


We’ve all heard, at one time or another, about those on the autism spectrum or those with mental health issues who can’t regulate or articulate easily getting into less-than-ideal situations with law enforcement. To ensure there aren’t any mishaps, police officers are being trained to better handle people with autism and mental health issues by virtual reality (VR).


More often than not, officers confuse people with special needs with someone under the influence of drugs or alcohol — something that could be avoided with a little bit of additional training.


Consider this, when officers arrive at a location after being called for some sort of disturbance, they arrive with flashing blue and red lights and sirens blaring. This is just a way of law enforcement letting the community around them know they’re on their way solve an issue nearby. Neurotypical people usually know how to react but imagine being someone on the spectrum who is sensitive to bright lights and loud noises, your first reaction might be to self-regulate and engage in a behavior called stimming.


Stimming is a self-stimulatory behavior that helps those on the autism spectrum cope with day-to-day triggers. Many times, stimming will involve hand flapping, rocking, spinning or repetition of words or phrases. An officer may not recognize this behavior, or confuse it for something else and the situation can go south quickly.

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This is one of the scenarios used to train law enforcement to better handle situations that may involve people on the spectrum or with mental health issues. The training is given by Axon — the company best known for developing the taser — so officers can learn how to de-escalate situations instead of making them more intense. In 2017 alone, 149 people were killed by police and were unarmed, so it’s important that cops learn to identify the different kinds of people out there so that the wrong person isn’t hurt in a bout of confusion.


The taser company has recently partnered up with the Chicago police department to train the department using virtual reality headsets. The program was developed with the assistance of mental health and autism experts. Eventually, this course will be available to law enforcement officers across the U.S.


As of right now, the courses offer two modules one for autism training and another for schizophrenia training. With a remote, officers in training can pick the scenarios they prefer and go through the training in just about five minutes. They also get to take the training from the perspective of the person with autism or neurological disorder or from the officer’s perspective.


One of the scenarios shows a storekeeper approaching a person with autism who mistakenly walks out of the store with a toy in their hand and instead of de-escalating the situation and asking “hey, what is that in your hand?” instead of jumping to conclusions and escalating the situation by calling the cops and leading to something negative.



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