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The Thomasville Police Department recently participated in an autism safety training course to gain a better understanding of autism and learn effective ways to approach someone on the autism spectrum.

Thomasville Police Chief John Letteney has participated in autism safety training in the past. He saw the value in what he learned and wanted to provide that training for the Thomasville Police Department. “We deal with folks on various stages of the autism spectrum,” said Letteney. “This training is important so we can best handle situations, serve someone in need, and provide tools to make our law enforcement better.”

According to the CDC, 1 in 44 children in the United States is diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, affecting all ethnic and socio-economic groups. Individuals with autism can have significant social, communicative, and behavioral challenges. The training focused on recognizing these challenges like sensory processing issues, self-regulating behavior, and difficulty maintaining eye contact.

Training began with a video of a 14-year-old boy detained by an officer that thought the teenager was using an inhalant drug when instead he was “stimming,” a common self-stimulating activity that helps to calm the nerves of people with autism.

Educating officers to recognize and understand the signs of autism can minimize the potential risk to an individual and police officer. “We want our officers to understand and be aware of the signs, so they have the tools and training to respond appropriately,” noted Letteney.

The training was conducted by Bart Barta, a retired law enforcement commander and instructor who has trained more than 9,000 first responders and educators to interact with people who have autism. Barta is also the father of an adult with autism.

“Autism is not a mental illness,” noted Barta. “If officers recognize the challenges of someone with autism, they will have much more awareness on how to react and assess the situation effectively.”

Four training sessions were held this week to train all officers and some civilian staff. Firefighters from Thomasville Fire Rescue also participated in training sessions.

For more information about the Thomasville Police Department, visit