According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States.
More than 3.5 million Americans live with a spectrum disorder, which is characterized by challenges in socializing and communicating.
Those numbers, and a personal connection to the disorder, inspired a local police officer to train other first responders on how to respond to people with autism.
In 2016 in North Miami, police responded to a report of a suicidal man, possibly armed with a gun. Instead, there was an autistic man sitting on the street, holding a toy truck. When his behavioral therapist stepped in to try to help, he was shot by responding police.
In 2014 in Rotterdam, NY, police broke the arm of an autistic teenager who refused to get off a school bus. He was hurt when two officers took him off the bus using force.
"Bad things can happen, you can have very bad outcomes. Death can happen, injury can happen," Scott Bailey, a police officer at Robert Morris University, said.
Officer Bailey is an expert on how to deal with people on the spectrum. Not only is he a police officer at RMU and part-time in Aspinwall, but he's also the father of two boys on the spectrum. For him, the push to teach others how to approach people with autism is personal.
"Be respectful and give them dignity. They're humans," Bailey said.
"I'm glad he's really doing this because it can really teach, like, students, officers, everyone in the community what autism is really about," Trevor Bailey, Scott's son, said.
Scott Bailey teaches fellow first responders what to do when they encounter someone with autism using a DVD he created with the help of the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office. Channel 11 anchor Peggy Finnegan sat in on a training seminar led by Bailey at RMU for resident advisors and campus police.
"I always tell people, especially in law enforcement and EMS: no lights, no sirens," Bailey said.
Sirens, lights, or even touching a person on the spectrum without warning them first can distress them and cause a simple situation to escalate.
Officer Bailey said of all the things he's done in his career, developing the training DVD is the thing he is most proud of.
"I wanted to do something bigger than myself and my family. I wanted to do something I could reach out to thousands of families wherever I could," Bailey said.
Bailey's autism training program has now been used around the world, from Canada to Scotland Yard.
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