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YFCS August Blog: Police Engagement Among Individuals with Developmental Differences

The Youth, Family, and Community Sciences graduate program publishes a monthly blog written by students and alumni sharing important topics and helpful resources related to the field of family science. The latest post is written by Emily Ragland, an alum of the online Master of Youth, Family, and Community Sciences program and owner and founder of communiTEAM LLC

For the last 12 years, I have worked with individuals with developmental differences. Between running group homes or foster homes, working in schools for children with unique needs, and working with parents of children with autism, my vocation has focused on those with different needs. Over my time in this field, I have engaged with police several times on behalf of my clients and their families. Sometimes it is because I was out in the community while one of my clients had a challenging behavior and the police were called by a community member. Other times were on a home visit and the client’s family struggled to keep themselves or their loved ones safe due to an intense behavioral reaction. No matter how many times I have engaged with police around the needs of those with differences, these experiences have stuck in my mind, and even more so in my heart.

Self photo of Emily Ragland.
Emily Ragland

In my time as a YFCS graduate student, I became continually aware of the systems, policies and laws in place created to protect and strengthen individuals as well as families. Though I learned of the purposes behind such parts of government, I also always felt it was important to question and confirm that these systems are just and fair for all of our community members. 

On May 25th of 2020, George Floyd was killed by police officers who used intense force and questionable tactics to restrain Floyd. Since then, people have debated the role of police as well as the hands-on efforts used by first responders. During this time many of us would mourn the death of Floyd and our fellow citizens killed in police custody. Though this very much hit home for me as a minority in America, it also reminded me of the many times I engaged with police on behalf of my clients. Often such clients struggled to communicate their worries and emotions. Or perhaps they had a different way to show fear. What about those individuals? Who is protecting them, if they are ever confronted by the police?

This concern pushed me to research the training offered to police when it comes to engaging with individuals with developmental delays and differences. Though I found that several large cities receive training, some even being trained through a virtual reality program; many have very minimal work related to communicating and understanding neurodiverse individuals. This reality makes me fear for our neurodiverse loved ones — should someone be pulled over and an individual with developmental delays is in the car. It is even possible that they might run away or get aggressive. Though these behaviors may be seen as combative, they are likely expressing their reaction to chaos, fear, confusion, or misinterpretation. 

If police and other first responders do not get the training needed to understand our neurodiverse community, how can we as professionals keep them safe? As a professional and someone who has worked with and cared for those with developmental differences, I believe strongly in being a part of this much-needed conversation.

Engage with communiTEAM

With that in mind, communiTEAM LLC  is hoping to engage with communities, professionals, parents, and first responders to have these difficult but crucial conversations. It is the goal of communiTEAM to offer safe environments for those with unique needs and to do that, we must have hard talks and come up with solutions. We cannot afford to wait.

To learn more about our efforts or set up professional development training please reach out to communiTEAM LLC through our website or email me directly at

To learn more and continue access to resources in efforts to learn more about supporting or parenting those with developmental differences, please follow us on Instagram @communiteam2020 or Twitter @communiteam.

“Alone we can do so little but together, we can do so much!”- Helen Keller

This post was originally published in Online and Distance Education News.