social communication role playing

A Great Idea for Improved Social Communication With Law Enforcement


Many children on the autism spectrum need help with social communication. For most families, a lag in language development is the first indication their child might be on the spectrum. With love and support, you can minimize problems with social communication. Sometimes there’s a limit on how much progress can be achieved, however. For most children and adults on the spectrum, different environments present different challenges. When you’re older, one of the biggest challenges you can face is dealing with law enforcement.

Social Communication With Law Enforcement

Social communication skills are especially useful in stressful situations. If you are able to understand what’s being said to you, and be understood in turn, it’s easier to stay calm. Very few people can manage to stay calm when talking to law enforcement. Just talking to a police officer during a traffic stop is enough to make anyone tongue-tied. For someone with limited communication skills already, it can be overwhelming.

Police Have a Tough Job

Being a police officer is difficult. They never know exactly what they’ll encounter during their daily routines. When a traffic cop pulls over a speeder, they often have to stand in traffic while making quick assessments of the people in the car. If communication is halting, they naturally become suspicious.

Drivers on the autism spectrum may have extra trouble dealing with the stress of talking to a police officer. For most people, talking to law enforcement is a rare occurrence. Unfamiliar situations are especially challenging to autistic people, even if they’re very high functioning.

Additional Training Helps Police

Law enforcement is beginning to better understand the behavior of autistic citizens. Police departments increasingly offer training to help officers recognize unusual behavior that could be a sign of a speech or behavior impediment. This helps officers to de-escalate situations when they’re unsure of the motives of people who are behaving in unusual ways. Now police and autism activists are doing even more to accommodate the needs of autistic citizens.

Letting Law Enforcement Know

Noting a social communication problem on a driver’s license is a great way to improve the interaction between a police officer and a nervous driver on the spectrum. It’s a smart idea, and it’s beginning to win converts in the autism community and in law enforcement.

One example is the Texas Department of Public Safety. They’ve partnered with the Aspergers101 advocacy group to allow a small notice to be placed on Texas Drivers licenses that reads, “communication impediment.” This is not a new feature. It was once reserved for drivers who stuttered, had profound hearing loss, or had other conditions that made communication difficult. By extending this service to drivers on the autism spectrum, Texas is making it easier for police to interact with the public more effectively.

Role Play Can Help Autistic Drivers

Putting a communication impediment notice on official identification documents is a great idea, and it’s likely that other states will follow suit. Parents who are preparing their children to function effectively as an adult on the spectrum can do even more.

Many of the same techniques that help autistic children become better communicators while they’re young are still valuable when they reach adulthood. Role play is one of them.  Children and adults on the spectrum have trouble dealing with unusual and stressful situations. Role playing helps by familiarizing the actors with unusual situations. By playing the part of a citizen during a traffic stop, autistic drivers can become used to dealing with questions from law enforcement. That’s bound to lead to less stressful interactions for everyone involved.


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