By Murray Robertson
The Gisborne police Youth Services Team learned more about Autism Spectrum Disorder in a workshop yesterday designed to help them better deal with young people with ASD, described as “tricky” to manage.
Seven team members attended the workshop, hosted by Takiwatanga Taonga (ASD) facilitator Dorothy Taare-Smith.
“The workshop was about raising the level of awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder among the youth team members,” she said.
ASD is a serious developmental disorder that affects communication (verbal and nonverbal), social skills and behaviour, and children with it can have a range of challenges.
The challenges can vary from avoiding eye contact when spoken to, difficulties communicating verbally, and displaying inappropriate or unusual behaviour.
“Autism is an invisible disorder and difficult to identify at a first glance, especially for first responders like police officers,” Mrs Taare-Smith said.
“It's important not to misinterpret the behaviour of those with ASD as necessarily being bad behaviour.”
She has developed a series of Takiwatanga safety symbols which serves as a discreet safety alert to let the public know the wearer has ASD.
“The symbol indicates the carer may need support while out at the shops or at the park.”
“This workshop has been piloted here in Tairawhiti and I hope to see it rolled out around the rest of the country.
“I also hope to see the workshop made available to front-line general duties staff at some stage in the future.”
Youth Services Team leader Sergeant Cath Jones said the workshop was very successful.
“I like my team to get as much training as possible to help them in their role working with children and youth. “Autism can be a tricky thing to deal with for police,” Sergeant Jones said.
“I can certainly see merit in the workshop being broadened out to include all front-line staff.”
Mrs Taare-Smith has a Masters degree in specialist teaching, specialising in autism, and has a background in special education.
“Autism is something I feel people don't really understand, and I want to help people in general, not just police officers, improve their understanding.”