The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘San Diego

San Diego police officer protects and serves

with one comment

Police officer Brian Herritt and his autistic son

In what was a timely follow-up to my analysis of the Toronto Sun story published earlier this week, Rebecca Woolington of The Oregonian brings us a story profiling a San Diego police officer hosting a four-hour training session for fellow police officers in Oregon’s Washington County. The training is far from standard, as Brian Herritt will be instructing police officers on how to respond to autistic children. The father of an autistic child himself, Herritt’s inspiration began when his son eloped at the age of three and he found himself relying on police to find him. While his son was discovered safely, Herritt noticed police may be unprepared to handle autistic children, his experience as a parent and law enforcement official created a dedication to teaching cops how to recognize signs of autism and deescalate situations. Conversely, he also wants to teach parents the mentality of police officers.

The Autism Society of Oregon is funding the training session, and one likely subject will be the potential of confusing symptoms of autism spectrum disorder (people talking to themselves or fixating on objects) with socially awkward behaviors that exhibit signs of drug and alcohol use. Herritt also explains how to best take autistic people into custody, what crimes they are most likely to commit or fall victim to, and to avoid assuming someone isn’t cooperating because they’re not responding to questions or orders (as explained many times on this site, some autistic people don’t communicate verbally).

Autistic people must follow the laws like everyone else, but after the ordeal I dissected in Toronto, Herritt’s mission is the perfect antidote to solve issues surrounding lack of awareness of autism in law enforcement. One training session won’t make police experts, but because Herritt is a fellow officer with an autistic child, his ability to communicate to both parents and cops is more effective. He understands the wishes of parents to accommodate autism spectrum disorder when approached and the rapid responses officers must sometimes make on or off-duty. As I mentioned in the last story, there will be increasing encounters between autistic people and police officers as the autism population grows and ages, which likely means Herritt won’t be the only cop to offer this training in the future.

There’s also a possibility of a follow-up story in The Oregonian as the training session doesn’t take place until next Wednesday, creating a set-up to report the response of attendants. Many are representatives of the sheriff’s office and local police departments in Oregon, so finding ties for the reading audience would not require much effort. Continuing to cover this story could also reveal Herritt’s future plans for these training sessions; the fact he is traveling to Oregon from the San Diego area brings forth the desire to promote a subset of knowledge to a group who most likely will need them on future assignments. Outside the region, other news editors and reporters may find citizens similar to Herritt who share his goal.

Woolington spends the first half of the story explaining Herritt’s background and his drive to educate other officers before switching to local sources for their reaction regarding his Oregon visit. Woolington indirectly highlights why autism training will matter to any kind of safety official in the long-term: parents already in the business are getting a first-hand experience with the disability.

Questionnaire could answer autism concerns earlier than before

leave a comment »

Courtesy CNN

CNN picked up a story originally published by Health.com reporting that a new study may help detect autism in children as young as 1. The study is a 24-item questionnaire that assesses a child’s ability to communicate via eye contact, sounds and gestures. Warning signs could then be noted, allowing children to receive treatment earlier than current models. The Health.com story lists the average age for a diagnosis at five years old. Although the lack of biological signs for autism can make diagnosing the disability tricky, the questionnaire takes five minutes to fill out and can be scored on the spot.

The checklist doesn’t identify autism spectrum disorder specifically, but will tell takers something is wrong, which may point to autism or another developmental delay. In the study, where 137 pediatricians in the San Diego area screened over 10,000 children, only 32 of the 184 children whose development was below normal were diagnosed with autism. However, 56 were diagnosed with a learning disorder and 9 had another disorder entirely. Overall, the questionnaire’s accuracy level from the study’s data pool was 75 percent.

While the questionnaire doesn’t add the long-awaited biological marker everyone in the autism community, the questionnaire showcased its potential with detecting delays in developmental skills. Although the accuracy rating may make some parents squirm, there may be some satisfaction with its versatility, especially when virtually all medical professionals stress intervention as early as possible. One reason for the accuracy rating may simply be who they screen. Infants and toddlers are far from developing their abilities with motor and communication skills, as opposed to five-year-olds, where deficiencies are easier to detect. Scientific and anecdotal evidence suggest symptoms of autism aren’t clear until a child reaches 18 months of age. While the screening doesn’t specifically evaluate infants under that age, there’s a risk from parents or caregivers making too much out of the questionnaire’s findings and preparing for a disability whose presence can’t be officially identified that early.

The story itself focused on the study’s findings, how they were procured, and its potential for widespread use. Unfortunately, without an author, gauging who contributed to the story is virtually impossible. Most stories will indicate if more than one writer published the article, but stories themselves aren’t structured in different formats when written by a host of writers. The structure of journalism doesn’t change for television, newspaper or magazine writing. Even if writers have a unique approach to writing a story, the editing process will streamline the final version.

Developments on this questionnaire will unfold over time, but the community will eat up almost anything that may give them an edge, even if a wild goose chase ensues.

Autism may be a matter of math

leave a comment »

No, I’m not suggesting autistic people are automatically brilliant mathematicians (says the person who can calculate basic operations in my head at breakneck speed, often visualizing a typeface to represent my equation…usually the eggcrate font seen on many game shows of the past, including The Price is Right and Wheel of Fortune. I might need a new hobby :-p). A study reported by NBC San Diego suggests toddlers who spend at least 69% of their observation time gazing at geometric images, such as those found on computer screen savers, are highly likely to fall in the autism spectrum.

Why is 69% a big deal? Because most other children would use that time engaging in interactive games, such as peek-a-boo. The University of California-San Diego, who published the study, responded to their findings by saying parents should simply speak to their pediatrician if their child is choosing to spend time gazing at moving geometric images versus engaging in more social activities.

Before anyone comes up with the idea of setting up a screen saver with a game of peek-a-boo, remember that the subject of fascination is geometric images, and that doesn’t account for other issues with a screen-to-screen interaction versus face-to-face. While a lack of interest in social activities is no secret to the autism community, the craving for geometric shapes intrigues me, yet makes sense when applied to my own experiences. I was a fan of game shows as a kid because of their highly structured set-up, but there was an abundance of shapes to be found. The title object in Wheel of Fortune is a giant circle, Jeopardy! is filled with quadrilaterals that pop up on the screen, and both were things I could easily visualize as a kid (along with Jeopardy’s enormous flashing logo used through the mid ’90s, image below). Coincidentally, both shows require a good amount of math to keep track, although none of it is related to its geometry embedded within the set.

The article is similar in nature to my last post about the study exploring infant gazes and autism. Combine the two stories and you’ll quickly notice a theme involving a lack of gazing at people. The fascinations that replace them may change as children get older, but both studies present possible clues or signs to answer the question about your child on the spectrum. Curiosities lead me to ponder if studies are in the works involving adolescents and what they enjoy observing. While there’s no linear link between autism and activities, I can’t recall too many journalists investigating what young autistic people notice in place of typical interests.

I don’t see a swarm of attention on what autistic people gaze at in the future, but I see these articles and studies possibly giving us more signs and reasons to be socially aware, regardless of who is or isn’t on the autism spectrum. My psychologist mentioned how autism can teach us a lot about typical human development in my first autism documentary. We may be teaching ourselves now.

Written by TheSportsBrain

September 7, 2010 at 11:04 pm