Law Enforcement Initiative Continues to Seek Feedback From the Autism Community

April 25, 2024

In our continuing effort to seek input from and partnership with the autism community regarding our Law Enforcement Initiative, on April 16, 2024, Autism New Jersey was honored to meet with Alex Mann during Autism Awareness and Acceptance month. Alex Mann is a 24-year-old autistic individual who has traveled to visit police departments throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, and California to talk to them about what it means to have autism and how to help individuals in law enforcement more effectively interact with autistic individuals. This visit marked Alex’s 482nd police department visit in the last several years! When asked why he tours the departments, aside from educating law enforcement on interactions with the autism community, he indicated that he wants to show his support for law enforcement and be a bright light for them. The meeting was facilitated by the Tewksbury Police Department and Law Enforcement Advisory Committee member, retired Chief Tim Barlow.

Alex shared that he has a number of personal tips and suggestions for law enforcement. Alex emphasizes that actions such as explaining the steps and process of what is happening may help with the “fear of the unknown” and that providing reassurance to autistic individuals can be helpful. Alex cautions against officers approaching as a group or interfering when a person is engaging in “stimming” (as long as no one is at risk of being harmed) as self-stimulatory behavior may be a person’s way of coping with a stressful situation. Lastly, Alex advises law enforcement to be aware that a person with autism may seem suspicious or intoxicated when it may just be a stress response to the situation and that depending upon the person, asking if there are any medical or other conditions to be aware of may be more ideal than asking if the person has autism.

In addition to these tips and suggestions, Alex also has some additional ones that align closely with our list of “in-the-moment” autism-friendly practices for interacting with autistic individuals. Specifically, strategies such as giving autistic individuals more time to process and respond to information, speaking calmly, and keeping in mind sensory needs/preferences (e.g., lights/sounds can be overwhelming) are ones that can support more successful interactions with autistic individuals.

During the meeting with Alex, Autism New Jersey also took the opportunity to share our initiative goals and identified proactive and in-the-moment autism-friendly practices. Alex was impressed with the work of the Law Enforcement Initiative, its assembled Law Enforcement Advisory Committee, and its goal of statewide adoption of autism-friendly practices by law enforcement. He is also hopeful that the Blue Envelope continues to spread in usage across New Jersey and all other states.

Ultimately, Alex’s words of advice to law enforcement are straightforward and also profound:

  • “Be aware that individuals with autism exist.”

  • “Be kind.”

  • “Be patient.”

  • “Treat a person with autism as you would want you or your family member to be treated.”

When Autism New Jersey first decided to start our Law Enforcement Initiative, it was in large part due to members of the autism community coming forth to tell their stories (both inspiring and challenging) of interactions with law enforcement. As we continue to work closely with law enforcement on the adoption of autism-friendly practices, we want to continue to ensure that the autism community has an active voice in bringing together law enforcement and autism. We thank Alex for his dedication and courage in spreading his powerful message and continue to encourage autistic individuals and their families to share their experiences and suggestions on ways to enhance interactions between the autism and law enforcement communities.