Seven years ago today I awoke with a mission. I wish I could say it was a noble mission of starting a career as a public speaker, but it wasn’t. My mission was one of self-preservation because I, quite simply, didn’t want to make a complete fool in front of 40 police officers at the Saint Louis County Police Academy because I was about to give my first presentation for Easterseals Midwest and I had never presented to police officers before and I had no idea what I could say that they would get.
My presentation that day was at 1PM and I awoke around 11:30 as back then I had no direction and no real purpose to get up so it was odd to get up and have somewhere to be. Was I nervous? Words can’t relay the feeling of dread I had as I left the house and inched towards the academy. What was I going to say? I had 50 minutes and I had an odd hodge-podge PowerPoint formulated which was, well, I don’t fully remember it because I only used it that first time and as I presented it I was cringing on the inside because I knew I was going down in the most glorious of flames.
It was bad, or so I thought. There was no fluidity in my words and no real message. I tried to sound like I knew what I was talking about and while I was sure I failed when my time was up I was confused because the officers there applauded and not in the polite way one does at the end of any given presentation but this was a genuine round of applause as if what I had just done was something out of the ordinary.
On my drive home I had many thoughts of how to make it better because I knew my material I had presented, whilst good, wasn’t what officers in the field needed to know. I didn’t know that in my audience that day were many high ranking officers including the then head of the Saint Louis C.I.T. program that would have me present to this day, and that impressing them was a feat to be proud of. This didn’t register because I had been so nervous and now I was so focused on needing to make my presentation more relevant.
E-mails were sent and I got a coworkers presentation and to this day I’m still using the same presentation. Much has change despite the PowerPoint remaining mainly the same (one major change; rate of autism has gone from 1 in 155 to 1 in 68) as the stories I use have become more complex. Also, after doing a police ride-along in March of 2010 I got a better understanding of what an officer faces and I changed my usage of words. Maybe it’s this understanding which has led to the continual great responses I’ve had and as the years have gone on my passion has not waned one bit. If anything my dedication to the field of law enforcement has increased as I’ve received the honor of presenting to three FBI field offices and last month I received the thrill of my career when I got invited to a conference that the FBI had.
While it was like playing in the Super Bowl or World Series last month at that conference every presentation to law enforcement at any level is important and each presentation can have ramifications that you and I will never know what the impact may be. If it were up to me I’d present to every officer possible because it’s something that can’t be put off or ignored as the rates of autism keep going up. It isn’t a matter of if an officer is going to have an encounter on the job with a person with autism but when. Statistics show that the vast majority will be because the person on the spectrum will be a victim, but if an officer isn’t aware of the traits, or the potential taking of things literally, the way the encounter goes may not be the best, or in certain situations the end result may be a story that ends up on the news in a tragic manner. I’m not saying my presentation or any other person’s presentation about autism may prevent a perfect storm from forming it is something that needs to happen.
The overall reception I’ve had from officers has been nonstop since the first one and I don’t take any police presentation for granted. I was oblivious seven years ago on what I was getting myself into and had no idea how much rides on being on my game each and every time. Actually, I never thought that officers needed training in the first place, but seven years later I now know the need for trainings throughout America and the world is growing faster and faster and I will forever be thankful for how aggressive the Saint Louis area has been at getting their officers trained. I can only hope that seven years from now we have made more progress than we can imagine because, well, we already have in the past seven.