The Alabama Law Enforcement Agency (ALEA) now has a simple but effective way to respond to people who are unable to respond to them: sensory bags.
Designed to help people suffering from sensory processing disorder to calm down, these bags offer a way for officers to interact positively and communicate with these individuals, who may appear to pose a threat to themselves or others.
Combined with the training that comes with the delivery of the bags, ALEA troopers can easily recognise the symptoms of sensory processing disorder and know how to relate to people suffering from sensory overload. This avoids any misunderstandings that could increase stress in an intervention.
In 2013, 12 agencies and several law enforcement professionals from the state of Alabama came together in one entity to create ALEA. The agency now has around 1500 employees in various departments such as Homeland Security, Public Safety, Revenue Enforcement and Criminal Justice. In 2021, all sworn personnel of the agency, including troopers, special agents with the state bureau of investigation, communication officers, and members of the driver license division, completed Sensory Inclusion training. This made it the first state law enforcement agency to be certified by KultureCity, a non-profit organisation specialising in the acceptance and accommodation of people with sensory processing and other disabilities.
KultureCity’s training, which is primarily video based, focuses on instilling understanding, acceptance and empathy in first responders for those with sensory needs, who are estimated to represent between 5 and 16 percent of the U.S. population.
A common symptom of autism, this disability also affects people suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, dementia, or strokes. It is a medical condition in which the brain has problems receiving and responding to information coming through the senses, causing them to be over- or under-sensitive to certain things they see, hear, smell, touch and taste.
Bright lights, street noise, scratchy clothing and other stimuli can overwhelm those who are hypersensitive and cause them to have an emotional breakdown and behave in ways that may appear bizarre, even aggressive. These individuals may seek sensory stimulation through activities such as shouting, flapping their arms, and randomly touching people, sometimes in a rough manner.
People experiencing sensory overload may be so overwhelmed that they cannot speak or mentally process what they are being asked to do. They may, therefore, appear to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and deliberately uncooperative.
Founded in 2013 by Dr. Julian Maha, whose son was diagnosed with a sensory disorder, KultureCity has provided training and sensory bags to more than 50 first responder agencies in the United States. Its training, designed to create acceptance based on an understanding of how people with sensory needs react to stimulus, focuses on four key areas:
- Compassion for someone with an invisible disability or sensory need and awareness of how common these needs are.
- The ability to recognise someone with an invisible disability or sensory need and how best to relate to them.
- Strategies to help these people adjust to a situation that is overwhelming them.
- How best to bring closure to this interaction and help resolve the situation in a positive way.
CHADD. (2021, September 21). New Research in Sensory Processing Dysfunction. https://chadd.org/adhd-weekly/new-research-in-sensory-processing-dysfunction
Office of the Governor of Alabama. (2021, August 3). Governor Ivey Announces Sensory-Inclusive Training for State Law Enforcement Officers. https://governor.alabama.gov/newsroom/2021/08/governor-ivey-announces-sensory-inclusive-training-for-state-law-enforcement-officers/