Seeing the red-and-blue flashers light up in the rear-view mirror can put a pit in anyone’s stomach; however, for a driver on the autism spectrum, the scenario can quickly become overwhelming.
A person with autism might have an impaired sense of danger, be confused by police presence, or react with a flight or fight response, which is why providing law enforcement with the education and tools to deescalate potentially dangerous situations is key for the safety of both the police officer and the motorist.
Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed Senate Bills 278-279, which are dedicated to autism training for law enforcement to help them identify unique needs that may fall outside standard police protocols. It allows autistic residents to add their names to a registry with the Michigan Department of State, allowing police to have immediate knowledge that someone is on the spectrum through their state ID, driver’s license or license plate. Access to that knowledge allows police to take an appropriate approach when interacting with a person with autism.
As part of Autism Awareness Month, the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation held an April 12 ceremony on the steps of the state Capitol to celebrate Greater Lansing law enforcement agencies that have been working to make changes to the system.
DeGroat’s foundation has been collaborating with elected officials to make these new laws possible and used the ceremony to thank law enforcement and state lawmakers for coming together to help better accommodate people on the spectrum.
Among the speakers at the ceremony were Lansing Police Chief Daryl Green and Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth, who explained the significance of these laws for police interaction with the autism community.
For more information, visit, xavierdegroatfoundation.org.