Harlingen Police Raising Awareness on Autism

Sgt. Alfredo Alvear

The numbers are rising across the nation, including here in the Rio Grande Valley

Right now the prevalence (of Autism) is 1 in 88 children, however the (Center for Disease Control) recently, in the past month, released a statement saying that it may be as high as 1 in 50 school aged children, speech therapist Jessica Lenden-Holt said.

The Harlingen Police Department recognizes the growing number of people with autism and is putting together a new database that will pinpoint the homes throughout the area, where a child or adult with autism resides.

About 120 officers and staff have also undergone a four course training with healthcare professionals on how to recognize autistic behaviors.

"The officers learned that they're going to have to take time with these people, they're going to have to be a little more patient than the common person, Sgt. Alfredo Alvear said. They are going to have to speak clearly, they are going to have to give instructions a little slower than usual, and they are going to have to let the person who is autistic respond to them."

Speech therapist Jessica Lenden-Holt said there are many misconceptions about autism. For starters, there's a wide spectrum which includes high functioning individuals that can engage in a conversation, to more reserved or less verbal individuals.

"Other misconceptions are that they are rude or that they are intending bodily harm, Lenden-Hold said. "A lot of our kids just don TMt understand dangerous situations, they may run away from you, or may run away from police officers or first responders."

Commander Myriam Anderson said in the past month, officers responded to about three different cases involving someone with autism.

She said this is a sensitive topic but getting the public's cooperation in putting this database together, will help officers do their job more effectively.

"When we go to a home and we see somebody raising their voice, our training indicates that that's a disturbance, Anderson said. But if we get to know our autistic population, then we can determine, that it's not a disturbance, (perhaps) they are expressing themselves."

To help gather information for this database, Harlingen Police and Kid's Korner are inviting families to attend the 1st Annual Harlingen Area Autism Awareness Day on April 27th, at Fair Park in Harlingen from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m.

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