Dear Parents and First Responders,
Kind Find: Keeping Spectrum Kids Safe is a program designed to gently and safely approach and/or find children and dependent adults with autism spectrum disorders. It is a voluntary way for parents to provide information on their children to first responders.
While all children may wander or be abducted, children with ASDs are especially at risk. Many of these children are unable to ask for help or express their needs due to their poor communication skills. Some of them may not be capable of understanding individuals like police officers, fire fighters and others who are there to help them. They may become fearful of first responders and either run away or try to fight them.
As mothers of children with autism, we have first-hand experience with situations in which our children have wandered away from us, have run into traffic, have hurt themselves to the point of needing medical attention or have simply been approached by someone unaware of their disability. In a first encounter, regardless of whether the stranger does or does not mean harm, a child with autism may panic or react unpredictably.
In other instances, high-functioning children and young adults on the autism spectrum, who appear perfectly typical, may come across as rude and/or obstinate in unfamiliar situations. If misinterpreted by police, these behaviors may cause a minor incident to develop into a major situation.
A perfect example of this is the story of a teenage boy who called 911 on a public telephone because he witnessed someone going through a red light and wanted to make a citizen’s arrest. He even gave the license plate number and make of the car. A police officer nearby received what appeared to be a crank call and found the very typical-looking boy still standing by the telephone. The boy, diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a high functioning disorder on the autism spectrum, simply reported what he had seen and insisted on an arrest. The officer thought the boy was abusing the 911 emergency number. What could have been a situation easily handled, resulted in a call to the boy’s mother to come to the police station. Asperger’s Syndrome, a disorder that hinders a person socially, is a perfect example of the need for a better system.
Kind Find: Keeping Spectrum Kids Safe is designed to be effective while being inexpensive for police departments. The program is simple:
- Parents or guardians fill out the registration form and attach two photographs of the child or young adult. They keep several copies for themselves to put in their wallets and vehicles.
- The original photographs and the information on the child will be kept in a file specifically for children and young adults with autism at the local police station for reference when needed.
Some police stations across the country have programs like this, but few collect specific details for children and young adults with autism. The registration form includes sections for guardians to address the individual’s diagnosis, communication skills, fears, and how to approach them. It is our hope that this program will be used in conjunction with first responder training in recognizing ASDs.
If a child is found and the officers suspect an ASD, they can immediately access the information in the file and see if the child matches up with a photograph. The officers would then have a better understanding of how to proceed. This program will be particularly helpful if the individual is non-verbal.
A program such as Kind Find: Keeping Spectrum Kids Safe could help so many children and young adults with autism, as well as the families and loved ones who care for them. Our goal is to provide awareness to first responders and to prevent unfortunate circumstances from developing. We hope that by setting up an easy way for parents to provide their children’s information, communication will be enhanced on both sides. Thank you for this opportunity to work together to keep our children with ASDs safer.
Mother of a son diagnosed with PDD NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified-an autism spectrum disorder)
Mother of triplet boys all diagnosed with autism
A very special thank you to Sergeant Donna Fotovich Lazetera and the Mount Kisco Police Department of Mount Kisco, New York for helping to launch this program.