Felony charges against an autistic Jackson County teen accused of cutting two sheriff's deputies with a nail file have struck a chord with autism advocates in Michigan.
They say the case highlights the need for law enforcement officers to get more training about the brain disorder, which affects about 15,000 children and adults in the state.
Michigan doesn't require police officers or first responders to get specific training for dealing with autistic children and adults. But experts say as more children on the autism spectrum reach adulthood, it poses more challenges for law enforcement officials and could potentially make stressful situations even worse.
Zachary Maxson, 17, faces two counts of assaulting, resisting and obstructing a police officer causing injury and one charge of domestic violence, a misdemeanor, in connection with the Feb. 9 incident.
"Here's a person who may not understand (law enforcement's) role in society," said Dennis Debbaudt, a Detroit native and founder of Autism Risk & Safety Management, which does training for agencies across the country. He also has a son who is autistic.
"There's a reason law enforcement drives marked vehicles and wears uniforms. They want people to know they're the police. But here's a segment of the population that doesn't know that."
Eight states require training for police or first responders in dealing with people with autism, mental illness or disabilities, according to Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism advocacy group. Some agencies, such as the Ottawa Police Service in Canada, even have autism registries, where relatives can sign up loved ones so if a situation arises, police are ready.
And while Michigan doesn't require it, autism advocacy groups are teaming up more and more with law enforcement across the state to offer training.
The Autism Alliance of Michigan hosted a conference with Debbaudt last month for more than 200 first responders, educators and community professionals. Wayne County sent officers and the training was webcast to locations including Macomb County, Traverse City, Berrien Springs and Cadillac.