Bebo’s Angels, a local nonprofit group that aims to raise awareness about autism, held a training session on Tuesday, in an effort to inform public safety officials how to better interact with those who have autism. 

Jose Lopez, a 28-year-old Weslaco resident, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome – a condition on the autism spectrum – last January. Lopez, who said he got into a fight with an officer at the age of 13, told CBS 4 News it wasn’t until after he was diagnosed that he realized why it occurred.

“He touched me – he put his hand on my shoulder and I don’t like people touching me like that,” Lopez said.

People diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder often have trouble interacting socially and communicating. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that about one in 68 children are diagnosed with ASD.

Corporal Julian Rodriguez, a La Feria officer, said that while he had never been properly trained to handle the interactions with someone who has autism, he does often interact with those who have it.

“It’s more common than what we think because of the fact that when you interact with them, you might think you’re dealing with someone who doesn’t want to comply, when in reality they have autism,” Rodriguez said.

Officers who interact with a person who has autism should avoid touching the individual, speak slowly and give the person time to understand the situation, according to Dennis Debbaudt, a law enforcement trainer.

“Contact with an individual of autism, when it’s safe to do so, will take longer. Officers, first responders, dispatch, should be ready to invest time, time is your best ally here,” Debbaudt said. 

First responders also urge parents and guardians to notify any public safety official if a person does have a form of autism in order to help them keep them safe.