MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A St. Paul police officer is using his own life experiences to help educate the community about autism.

Officer Rob Zink has two sons on the autism spectrum.

He started Cop Autism Response Education, or CARE, a couple of years ago. The program teaches officers how to more effectively communicate with people with autism.

Routine is key for students at Nokomis Montessori Magnet School who are living with autism spectrum disorder.

Officer Rob Zink (credit: CBS)

“A lot of you guys don’t like loud noises, so if I got loud and screamed and blew my whistle, you guys would not be happy,” Zink said.

These students process information in unique ways and often struggle with social and communication skills.

“I have a fear as a parent that if one of my boys had a contact with a police officer and they didn’t understand what was going on, the reactions one of my kids would have may misrepresent themselves to another officer,” Zink said.

Seeing a need for increased training, Zink started the CARE program, educating officers about some behaviors they may see from people living with autism — and to help them de-escalate difficult situations.

“We want to be able to meet with the kids and say … ‘Don’t be afraid of police,'” he said.

And the program educates students on the spectrum about the role of an officer.

“I think it makes me happy a lot because you protect mankind,” said one of the students to Officer Zink.

Officer Zink says it is helpful for families to introduce their loved ones with autism to local officers to help create a bond.

Other departments are now using the CARE program to train their officers.

Officer Rob Zink and students at Nokomis Montessori Magnet School (credit: CBS)

Another place that focuses on expanding autism services across Minnesota is Fraser.

Their ultimate goal is to open enough locations so that no family will have to drive further than 35 miles or 35 minutes to receive services.

And that is why WCCO is Pulling Together with Fraser next month. Your donations will go toward our Pulling Together Tug-of-War event.

Both police departments have teams pulling in the event on June 10.

There are nine teams on each side of the river pulling to see which city wins.

All teams need to collect $10,000 in donations for Fraser in order to get in to the event.

The Starkey Foundation is matching up to $20,000 in donations Thursday.

If you don’t want to pick a team, you can still pick a side. You can put your donation toward Minneapolis or St. Paul.

Then, don’t forget to mark your calendars and join us at Hidden Falls Park on June 10.

Click here for more information on Pulling Together.

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