Aspen police in line for autism training with Ascendigo Autism Services |

Aspen police in line for autism training with Ascendigo Autism Services

Aspen Times staff

Ascendigo Autism Services (AAS) is preparing Aspen’s first-responders for interaction with individuals with autism, particularly when individuals wander from safe environments. The nonprofit organization based in Carbondale will lead a training session for Aspen Police Officers on Aug. 15 and 17.

Such training is important because individuals with autism comprise at least 2% of society in the United States today, according to AAS. Data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention indicate a minimum of 1 in 44 children and 1 in 88 adults have autism nationally.

“Law enforcement is often the last resort before the autistic child or adult is facing adverse conditions and significant danger,” says Shelley Hendrix, a nationally recognized advocate for the autism community and AAS trainer.

During the training, law-enforcement officers will be engaged in hands-on exercises designed to help them better understand sensory and communications impairments that individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may be experiencing, especially when away from their family or caregiver. 

AAS also will provide tips on how to best interact with ASD individuals, whether they are having a great time on an adventure or are experiencing a difficult day with adverse behaviors.

Officers will receive a quick list of behaviors and types of communication (verbal, behavioral and non-verbal) for understanding the needs/wants of an ASD individual, as well as how to improve interactions and redirect with positive behavioral support, in the case a person with autism wanders from a safe environment.

During an interaction with law enforcement, those with autism may be misunderstood and/or can misunderstand, leading to mistakes and unintended serious consequences. AAS’s trainers will present guidelines to help guide those responding to crises involving individuals with autism.

AAS was chosen by the U.S. Department of Justice as one of 16 sites nationally to develop training materials to assist first-responders in the case that a person with autism or other developmental disability wanders from a safe environment. According to Hendrix, the autism community has worked for years to pass federal legislation to make this type of training for communities and law-enforcement personnel possible.

She said the following statistics emphasize the importance of such training:

  • People with autism are three times more likely to die from injury than a neurotypical peer. 
  • For individuals under age 15, it is 40 times more likely. 
  • When a person with ASD wanders or elopes, nearly half of all fatalities occur in under one hour. Recovery time is critical.
  • 20% of wandering/elopements occur from the place of residence.  Risk is much higher when traveling, visiting relatives, when engaged in outdoor recreation or in a vehicle.
  • Traffic accidents account for 18% of ASD wandering/elopement fatalities.
  • 40% of wandering/elopements take place when transitioning activities or locations.
  • Drowning is the leading cause of premature death in autism.
  • 71% of all deaths for children with ASD between 2011 and 2017 were accidental drownings. They are 160 times more likely to drown than non-disabled peers and 76% occur in natural bodies of water.

For more information about Ascendigo Autism Services’ safety training, contact Mathew McCabe at

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