The Windsor Star reports a great idea coming from our neighbors to the north
in having local police departments create a voluntary online registry of citizens with autism in their community.
A successful pilot project exists in Ottawa, where last year, police teamed with the their local autism chapter to give officers quick access to critical information in
the event of an emergency.
Michelle Helou, a Windsor mother of a son with autism, is now taking it upon herself to see the registry program expanded to her city. Non-verbal and prone to wandering, she fears what would happen to her son if he encountered police and was unable to respond to their questions or became aggressive from sudden movements. Ever fearful of him becoming lost, she also wants to be certain he could be brought home safely by police.
Recent events certainly give merit to her concerns. The tragic death of a man with autism shot to death in Los Angeles and the savage beating a jaywalking teen with autism in Seattle highlight police departments´ lack of preparedness in dealing people with autism in their communities.
A registry accessible from a squad car can provide police with a variety of valuable information, including contact information, nicknames, physical descriptions, a person’s means of communication, known routines, inclinations for wandering and favorite attractions. The data might also recommend the best ways to approach a person, their favorite topics of conversation or in the case of a young child, favorite toys.
At a time when police officers receive little or no training in dealing with autism, it could also reinforce in the moment what not to do, such as becoming suspicious and hostile if a person mimics speech or refuses to make eye contact, or won’t talk at all. The reminder to turn off bright lights, speak in a calm voice, maintain physical distance and not mistake autism symptoms for insubordination could go a long way towards averting a disastrous encounter with law enforcement officials.
It’s going to take a local effort to bring this great idea to our country’s metropolitan police departments. If unconnected to support groups, individuals can start their own campaigns and for those who do belong to a local autism chapter, this issue should be brought up as a matter of priority.
Privacy advocates will certainly have their say in this matter. However, the benefits of instituting autism registries across the country would far outstrip any privacy concerns that may arise from them. And as long as the programs remain voluntary, there should be no reason for resistance.
Regardless of how old our children with autism are, registries would go a long way towards keeping them safe in their communities.