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Marshfield Police Department encourages autism awareness

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Marshfield, Wis. (WAOW) -- Marshfield resident Amanda Grills has a four-year-old son with autism.

She says it's a learning experience every day.

"We're jumping through hoops, doing lots of therapies having daily struggles. But that's okay, I wouldn't change it for the world," she said.

Grills recently had to have the police visit her home. But what could have been a stressful situation for her son thankfully turned out a lot differently.

He got down to my son's level and was like it's okay, I'm here to help," she said.

It's for situations like these that the Marshfield Police Department has been working to educate themselves.

In recent years, they've implemented the use of door stickers that let first responders know they're visiting the home of an autistic person.

"I'm able to respond to them a little bit differently than I would via the police textbook that says if this, then I do that. I know that I need to branch off in a different direction," said Dennis Keffer, a patrol lieutenant with the department.

The department has also been working with community member Harry Dolan to learn how autism manifests, and how officers should respond to these manifestations.

"Autism can be mistaken for drug abuse, alcohol abuse, just general non-cooperation. I just wanted them to know that there could be another explanation for what it is they see," said Dolan, who is also the father of an autistic son.

Grills says she's glad police departments are acknowledging the nuances of autism, and working with peoples' behaviors instead of trying to change them.

"I'm a special needs mom, I want him to show his uniqueness," she said.

The police department is currently out of autism awareness door stickers, but they're expecting another order. To get one of your own, you can message the police department on Facebook with your address.

Natalie Sopyla

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