FL officers could be required to have more autism awareness training if bill passes through senate

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Dr. Karen Berkman has been advocating for people with autism for 35 years and knows a thing or two about how to work with them..

"When people with autism are anxious they are definitely going to respond differently then they might otherwise," said Dr. Berkman.

A therapist was shot in Miami, after his patient wasn't listening to commands from officers to lie down.

RELATED: Florida man shot by police while assisting autistic man

"We've all watch the news from all around the state about incidents occurring between the police and misunderstanding on occasion what they are seeing," said Dr. Berkman. 

A bill making its way through the senate would require officers to train in recognizing the signs and symptoms of a person with autism and how to respond.

An officer may interact with a person with autism at a traffic stop for example. Dr. Berkman says it's important for that officer to remember the driver may be sensitive to lights or sounds like sirens and may take longer answering questions. She says it's also a good idea for the officer to back up and give that person a little personal space and remain calm.

Gage Sosso works at the University of South Florida's center for autism and other disabilities - he's 22 and is considered high functioning on the spectrum.

"I've been driving for like six years now and I've only ever been pulled over once," Sosso said. "The officer was nice and everything but the entire time I was freaking out."

He says when he sees flashing lights in his rear view mirror he gets severe anxiety - he says the training could ensure officers don't perceive him or anyone else with autism as a threat. 

The USF Center for Autism and Related Disabilities is hoping to work with the state when it comes to training if the bill is passed. It heads to a senate appropriations committee Thursday.

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