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Oklahoma police officers taking strides to better understand autism calls

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NORMAN, Okla. - Autism is a disability that many people don't understand.

When it comes to situations involving officers, that lack of knowledge could become dangerous.

“Autism itself is an invisible disability,” said Corp. Cory Sutton, with the OU Police Department. “Every day, you might not recognize someone is on the spectrum."

Sutton remembers a time when a child was found wandering on the streets.

After alerting the boy's mother that he had been found, officers tried to figure out exactly what was going on to the best of their ability.

They soon learned the boy has autism and their efforts were only making matters worse.

"They were not allowing her to get in there and calm him down, which made the situation even worse," said Sutton.

Sutton says the officers had no idea how to handle the situation, which inspired him to make a change.

Now, law enforcement agencies from across the state are learning the signs of autism, along with techniques for helping a person with the disorder.

Sutton says it can be as simple as getting the person into a quiet space and getting them in touch with a parent or caretaker.

"Even something such as a squeezy toy or a teddy bear, something they can hold on to," he said.

Sutton and his wife started the free CLEET-certified class in 2010 and says it has had a major impact.

"It's really made me rethink just how tough it is for the parents with autistic children and how difficult it is for them ,the never ending-ness of it," said Jeff Harp, UCO police chief.

They hope the class will become mandatory statewide.

“They've come up to us and said, ‘You know, had I known this information before, I could have handled this call before much differently," Sutton said.

For more information on autism, you can visit the Oklahoma Autism Network's website.

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