Dozens of first responders receive Autism training

OPELIKA, Ala.- Dustin Chandler served a decade as a narcotics officer. He also has a daughter with special needs.

Chandler is the President and Co-Founder of Interaction Advisory Group, a group dedicated to the interactions and dynamics of those with special needs. Chandler said his experience wearing the badge and as a parent served as a calling for him.

“To be able to speak for my daughter, she can’t talk,” Chandler said. “My daughter is non-verbal. I feel like this training and coming out here for the special needs community as a whole and being able to bridge that gap and be able to represent my daughter, and children like her and adults living with developmental disabilities or autism, or anything is real special to me.”

Friday morning, Chandler led close to 80 first responders around the Chattahoochee Valley in Autism training. Chandler taught attendees what to expect when encountering someone with Autism, how to manage the situation, how to communicate with them and more.

Luanne Helms is the organizer of the event. This is the second year she has done the event, and she said it is the largest training of this type in the state. Her son, Jake has non-verbal Autism. Helms said Jake is the catalyst for the training.

“It makes me feel safe for Jake to be able to go out and enjoy his community and be a part of the community, work in the community, he volunteers in the community, so it brings up a level of safety for everybody across the board,” Helms said.

Captain Shane Healey of the Opelika Police Department said the training gives a whole new perspective to those who may not know how to handle a situation.

“In law enforcement, it’s all about how you communicate with people,” Captain Healey said. “That’s how you de-escalate situations. That’s how we go into a call or some sort of situation and handle it is by communication. These trainings help us understand people and how to communicate with them.”

Helms said she is hoping to do another training session in the early part of 2017.