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SAPD cadets learn how to respond to incidents involving people with autism

Tiffany Huertas

Apr 2, 2024

SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio nonprofits have teamed up to create a training program to help San Antonio police cadets better understand autism spectrum disorders.

Any Baby Can of San Antonio, a local nonprofit serving families with children and youth facing serious health or developmental challenges, is part of the group behind the program.

Robert Peaden, director of Autism Services at Any Baby Can San Antonio, said it teaches cadets how to respond to incidents involving people with autism.

“What they look like when it comes to recognizing from level one to level three on that spectrum. And then after that, after about two hours of instruction there, we do about two hour instruction of the response phase,” he said.

Peaden has a passion for helping parents navigate autism spectrum disorder. His son Logan was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder when he was two years old.

“My son was diagnosed at two years old at Triple Army Medical Center in Hawaii when I was in the United States Air Force,” Peaden said.

Peaden’s love for his son brought him to the program.

“I would describe my son as the nicest person you’ve ever met in your life,” Peaden said.

Any Baby Can San Antonio teamed up with the nonprofit Family ADDventures to start the program last year.

“My mission is to keep children with autism out of the school to prison pipeline,” said Nicole Santiago, CEO of Family ADDventures.

Santiago is passionate about this training and explains the reason it started.

“One of my clients was unlawfully arrested and I filed a complaint and we had a meeting and the police were open to us coming in to train,” Santiago said.

San Antonio Police Department officials say every cadet class is now taking the trainings.

“We talk about different sensory needs. Different communication needs. So, for example, I have communication boards I use. So sometimes if someone becomes with their anxiety, they become non-speaking, they can use the board to point to what they want to say,” Santiago said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports about 1 in 36 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder.

“Autism is a developmental disability or disorder that is diagnosed in childhood, and it affects communication chiefly, it also affects social skills, sensory processing,” Adrienne Gaither, director of caregiver empowerment at Autism Community Network said.

The Autism Community Network also played a big role in the program and is involved in the training.

“I think the most important strategy is to be open minded and also to take a step back when they encounter a person with autism and really think about what accommodations can be made. How they can read the communication of someone who might have a communication impairment. And also to draw on the training that we’ve providing and not to be scared of that call,” Gaither said.

“The training is super helpful because it helps develop a level of competency in our new officers. These are cadets preparing to become officers serving the community, and it helps them to develop relationships and to learn how to interact with really all people from our community,” Jeremy Spencer, police officer at SAPD and instructor at the training academy said.

April is National Autism Awareness Month and KSAT community is partnering with Any Baby Can to help raise awareness.

Tune in for the KSAT Community “Town Hall: Understanding Autism”, hosted by Tiffany Huertas. You can watch live at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, April 16 through the KSAT+ streaming services.

Also, Any Baby Can San Antonio is hosting its 20th Annual Walk for Autism on April 20, 2024 at Palo Alto College.

Watch Autism Community Network's Director of Caregiver Empowerment, Adrienne Gaither, work with other community nonprofits to educate the SAPD about autism here: 

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