BUFFALO, N.Y -- Police face stressful situations every day, but so do people with autism, and the combination of the two can be a recipe for dangerous encounters.
It's a cause that hits close to home for Dennis Debbaudt, who has a 33-year-old autistic son.
"When he was a little boy, he would wander away from our care, and terrify us. He was mistaken as an abducted child when I was out in public places at shopping malls and it would case the police to close in on us and quiz me about who he was," said Debbaudt, who is a parent, author and law enforcement trainer.
The story is not unique. Encounters with law enforcement are estimated to be seven times more common for people with autism than those without, and those situations can quickly escalate.
"Law enforcement across Western New York deals with this every day. Every hour of every day," said former Lockport Police Chief Larry Eggert. "In many cases, you don't know what you're walking into. For us, you might walk into somebody with autism and it looks like a drug issue or it looks like somebody who is just not having a good day, and we react to what we see initially."
That's why dozens of EMS workers went through training Wednesday at Erie County Medical Center. They learned the best ways to approach emergency calls involving people with autism.
"When officer safety is not compromised, they can slow the contact down, communicate in simple terms. For example, Speak. In. Verbal. Bullet points," said Debbaudt.
"We have seven law enforcement agencies fully trained in what we call crisis management teams in Western New York, and we're working on new police forces every day and a component of is that this autism training and other autism training to better inform our officers," said Dr. Michael Cummings, the executive director of ECMC's Behavioral Health Center.
Law enforcement officers say this training is critical in making sure people with autism who do encounter authorities end up with the proper treatment instead of in jail.
"Jail is a pretty Darwinian environment, and someone who is thrown into that environment that's autistic, they're not really equipped to survive in that environment. What they really need is a medical facility where they can be treated with what is wrong with them. If you throw them into jail, there's no treatment," said Eggert.