Autism Registries Needed for Local Law Enforcement

Autism Safety Law Enforcement

John Roman

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.

3 Responses to Autism Registries Needed for Local Law Enforcement

  1. Marianne Smith says:

    A great registry already exists and it’s accessible anywhere – not just in one city, county or province. It’s MedicAlert. My son has Autism and I would not be able to rest easy without this service. They maintain a list of emergency contacts, other conditions, medications taken and they have a notification service so that if my son ever wanders, they call me and let me know where he is. What a great service! What you’ve mentioned in this article already exists within MedicAlert, anyone with a child with Autism should register their Child with MedicAlert, it’s the tried and true service! Thank you MedicAlert!

  2. Thank you Marianne! It’s great to hear from members like you advocating on behalf of MedicAlert®, and you’re right – we are more than a medical ID and offer services that are more comprehensive than a registry. While a registry may definitely prove to be beneficial, we believe our 24/7 emergency support network is the layer of protection that families most need in the event of a wandering incident or medical emergency.

    As a nonprofit, we actively train/educate emergency responders to ensure they recognize MedicAlert IDs and are able to retrieve the health information they need. This ensures that no time is lost “getting up to speed” or worse, “guessing” about your child’s condition. We also work with autism organizations – including the Autism Society, Talk About Curing Autism (TACA), Autism One, Playability Toys, and Autism Speaks – to help educate the autism community about MedicAlert’s life-saving services, and to offer relief and peace-of-mind for parents/caregivers.

    Our services are best illustrated in the words of Acting Lieutenant Ronald J. Neuberger of the Lealman County Fire District (Florida), describing his actions after receiving a call to evaluate a lost autistic (non-verbal) wandering child:

    “She was autistic and could not tell us anything at all. She was wandering around a fairly busy road. She had on a MedicAlert ID band and we were able to call MedicAlert and within seconds locate her home. If it were not for the MedicAlert ID, we might not have been able to locate her home as quickly and this could have put more stress on the child. When we returned the child home, I explained to the parents that we were able to get her home due to the band she was wearing. We were relieved when we were told that she never leaves home without it.”

    We encourage Autism Key readers to learn more by visiting

  3. This is bull shit says:

    I can hear the trains now, wake up and smell gas sheeple history has shown this will not end well.

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Did You Know?

  • * In 1970, Autism affected 1 out of 10,000 children
  • * Autism now affects 1 out of 88 children
  • * Autism affects 1 in 54 boys
  • * 1.7 million Americans have some form of autism
  • * 4 out of 5 autistic children are boys

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