WASHINGTON — An autistic man walks out of a store without paying for a toy he picked up. He's followed by a storekeeper demanding he come back inside. The situation quickly escalates, and police are called.
Officers arrive, their patrol car's lights flashing and sirens blaring, to find the man in the parking lot, yelling and not responding to their commands. They have a choice: confront the man and risk having the situation turn violent or regroup to figure out a different approach.
The scenario is part of a virtual reality simulation for police that's being developed by Axon — the company known best for developing the Taser — so officers can learn how to interact with people who have autism and de-escalate situations that could quickly turn awry. The developmental disorder that can involve varying degrees of language and social impairments, often including repetitive behaviours. In 2018, the U.S. government estimated about 1 in 40 kids is diagnosed with autism.