As an Autism mom and daughter of a retired first responder, I knew there was a disconnect between the special needs community and those individuals meant to provide support and care in an emergency situations.
Just over a year ago, my son experienced frightening medical concerns. Being that an ambulance would have been too overstimulating for him, we jumped in my car and began to rush to the hospital. In that rush, I passed a police cruiser and was pulled over. I explained to the reason for my rush and that my son needed medical attention. I explained the symptoms he was experiencing and additionally noted his autism diagnosis. The officer looked at my son and proceeded to ask my son questions. At the time, my son was non-speaking and I explained to the officer that he could not respond. The officer proceeded to tell me that my son looked okay and because I denied an ambulance, I was going to need to wait on the side of the road until he, as the officer, determined the next steps. Thirty minutes later, I was provided with a ticket.
A few months later, my son and I were in a car accident. Someone swerved across two lanes and almost T-boned us. The outcome could have been much worse and thankfully it was just a few dents on my car. The accident occurred on a very busy road, one which I could not take my son out of the car as we waited for the police to arrive. I stood patiently by my son’s door for the officer arrive, all while remembering our last experience. Once he did arrive, I opened the door to allow him to see that my son was okay. The officer was immediately noticed the medical band on my son’s seatbelt. The band indicated his name, his diagnosis and some important alerts to municipalities. The officer asked my if my son could respond to questions and as he communicated with my boy, the officer was patient, calm and he showed compassion.
These two vastly different experiences prompted me to think. Although these instances didn’t take place within the community I reside, I reached out to my town police department inquiring if there was any database or registration system for the police department to be aware of my son’s autism diagnosis. They informed me there was nothing in my community or surrounding areas. Despite that, my local department in North Branford, CT was opened minded and wanted to work collaboratively to create something.
After collaboration with my son’s providers and first responders the program LINKED- Autism Safety Project was created. The goal of LINKED is to provide resources, tools and education to municipalities to better understand individuals of the Autism community. In addition, the project also offers resources to the registered families to assist autistic individuals in better understanding municipalities.
The North Branford Police Department implemented the project in June of this year and since then the LINKED- Autism Safety Project has partnered with additional communities within Connecticut. Those community partners include Beacon Falls Police Department, Beacon Hose Co. 1 and the Watertown Police Department. In addition, we are working to roll out the program in three additional communities and a private university within the state over the next few months. Conversations have also taken place with various Autism parents, special education providers, and municipalities across the country.
After several implementation meetings and first responders being provided with our program resources such as emergency management social stories and emergency picture exchange communication tools, LINKED has developed an awareness and education course for first responders to better understand the Autism community. The course is designed to provide municipalities with key information about our community and the skills on how to appropriately use the resources and tools provided through LINKED.
I am beyond grateful for the response and interest that LINKED- Autism Safety Project has received. I am even more grateful for municipalities and communities taking initiative to enhance their knowledge and resources. After being able to successfully duplicate the program in additional communities, LINKED is eager to connect with any and all municipalities that would like to learn more and become linked together.