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OUPD Officer Facilitates Autism Sensitivity Training

OUPD Officer Facilitates Autism Sensitivity Training

On a daily basis, police officers encounter a multitude of individuals, all of whom may react differently in an emergency situation. Interactions involving individuals with autism – whose behaviors could be interpreted as threatening or suspicious – have a heightened potential to escalate. 

Sgt. Cory Sutton of the University of Oklahoma Police Department has trained law enforcement officers and others for nearly a decade on safely handling encounters with individuals with autism. 

Since 2011, Sutton has trained 1,702 Oklahoma officers – criss-crossing the state two or three times a month to teach the class. Sutton’s wife, Traci, who is a speech-language pathologist, developed the course after a friend’s child was diagnosed with autism. 

In the course, officers and first responders are trained to recognize signs indicating that someone may be on the spectrum. In these cases, officers are taught to adapt to a different set of techniques to communicate and interact. 

For example, a person on the spectrum may not respond quickly to a direct command; according to Sutton, this could be up to 11 seconds slower in a non-stress situation. 

Sutton said the aim of the class is to show those in law enforcement and other frontline professionals “what autism is and what it looks like.” 

The training also includes a panel of individuals whose lives have been directly affected by autism. 

The response has been hugely positive, Sutton said. 

“I’ve got a drawer full of evaluations,” he said, with responses like “‘I wish I had this earlier in my career; this was incredibly valuable information.’” 

The free, eight-hour class is accredited through CLEET (the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training) for eight hours of continuing education and two hours of mental health training. 

For those seeking more information, contact Sgt. Sutton at  

Sgt. Cory Sutton

Article Published: Wednesday, January 29, 2020