At WJXT, Joy Purdy explores police autism training in Northeast Florida's largest counties.
The St. Johns County Sheriff's Office has incorporated an autism curriculum into its annual in-service training for all officers.
The department has also made it an integral part of its Crisis Intervention Training, focused on multiple aspects of mental health.
The week-long, 40-hour CIT training is used by law enforcement departments nationwide and includes role-playing scenarios, videos, visits from area autism experts and families dealing with the disorder, as well as field trips to related facilities.
Sheriff David Shoar said his department has taken extra steps, making sure every employee, sworn or civilian, has the week-long block of training.
The Clay County Sheriff's Office was the first local law enforcement department to incorporate autism experts from Wolfson Children's Hospital.
It now has it's own specialized mental health training unit, providing the knowledge in-house for all officers on a variety of issues, including autism.
The Jacksonville Sheriff's Office required all of its police supervisors to take autism training last April.
Now, every Jacksonville officer has, or is in the process of receiving, the same training, which is also now part of every Jacksonville police recruit's required CIT training.
Police encounters that have made headlines recently prove just how helpful and timely autism training has been for each of the three local sheriff's offices.
Speech language pathologist Lauren Papke, with Wolfson Children's Rehabilitation Center, said she discovered the area's first responders didn't have adequate autism training after she researched resources for a family that was concerned about their young child with autism who often ran away.
"We sought to fill that gap," Papke explained.
The program she and others created in 2013 is called SAFE Program Training: Safety Awareness for First Response to Elopement.