More than 100 school resources officers in Broward County received special training Friday to help communicate with students on the autism spectrum - just in time for Autism Awareness Month in April.
Members of the Broward Sheriff's Office, as well as police officers from Sunrise and Davie, took part in the event at Boyd Anderson High School, learning how to recognize the unique challenges that children on the spectrum face on a daily basis.
"It could be communication issues, could be sensory issues and of course there’s some behavioral challenges that accompany all of that," said Bart Barta, a former law enforcement officer who led the training course.
Barta, who has a son on the autism spectrum, trains the SROs to know the best ways to interact and identify traits that can help avoid miscommunication.
"When they come in contact with a school resource officer and they don’t respond like a typical student responds, sometimes that can be taken as defiance and resisting the officer," Barta said.
Broward Sheriff's Office deputies who serve as resource officers are required to receive training on a limited basis.
BSO Major Anthony DeMarco says it's necessary for the officers to have the tools needed to identify and be aware of some intricacies autistic students may exhibit.
"There are certain behaviors that someone with autism will exhibit just as its part of their makeup and if the officers can recognize those, they can use their de-escalation techniques in a better manner," he added.
Barta says one out of every 54 children is on the spectrum - making this kind of knowledge valuable for anyone interacting with a large group of children on a daily basis.
"It’s not a question of if these officers come in contact with students that have autism, it’s just a question of when," he said.