Staff Report

First responders from public safety agencies across Santa Barbara County know more about communicating with people who have autism after they attended a training session April 18 at CenCal Health in Santa Barbara.

The Autism Society, in collaboration with the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office, hosted two training classes taught by Brian Herritt, a private consultant and retired police officer. He provided skills on how to identify, interact with and confront people on the autism spectrum.

“I am very blessed to have the insight of both a police officer and a parent of a child with autism. My goal and the goal of the Autism Society was to provide our first responders with the awareness and training they so desperately need,” Herritt said.

“It’s vital that our first responders have a clear understanding of some of the overarching characteristics of autism so that our loved ones’ needs are understood and their safety is protected,” said Marcia Eichelberger of the Autism Society. “It’s very easy to misinterpret things you aren’t familiar with.

“Knowledge is power. Behavior that might be overlooked or shrugged off in a young child may elicit a different reaction coming from an adolescent or an adult,” she said. “The safety of the people we serve and their families is our number one priority in offering these free trainings.”

Sheriff Bill Brown, who has a son with autism, said he understands the nuances and challenges autism brings, especially during interactions with law enforcement.

“I want to thank the Autism Society for sponsoring this valuable training,” he said. “My hope is that the first responders who attended now have a better understanding of this bewildering disability, and that they are better equipped to recognize it, and to interact with those who have it.”

Autism is the fastest-growing developmental disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to a 2014 California Department of Developmental Services survey, more than 73,000 people in California had been diagnosed with autism, and nearly 90 percent of them were under age 21.

Based on population growth and rate of diagnoses per year, it’s estimated this number has grown to more than 120,000 people.

The overall incidence of autism is consistent around the globe, but is nearly five times more prevalent in boys than girls. Autism knows no racial, ethnic, or social boundaries; family income, lifestyle, and educational levels do not affect the possibility of an autism occurrence.

Education, awareness, advocacy and support form the cornerstones of the Autism Society’s mission. The group offers an informational foundation for family support, current medical practices and clinical recommendations.

For more information on the Autism Society, contact Eichelberger at 805-722-7473 or