Everywhere evidence mounts showing autism is a critical condition that we have never had to deal with previously—still we refuse to take any action to address this. I guess we’ll just go on pretending that this is normal and acceptable to the bitter end. I posted one comment.
Taking into consideration the recent missing person incidents that have occurred in the metropolitan area involving autistic individuals, the Wayne Police Department, in a proactive effort, is reaching out in hopes of better serving the autistic and special needs community. The department is adding pertinent information and photographs into its database of autistic and special needs individuals residing in Wayne Township in the event they go missing.
This initiative, according to Police Chief John Reardon, was born from a recent autism training class, which this year was part of its annual domestic violence refresher course offered by the Passaic County Prosecutor’s Office.
The training was conducted by Gary Weitzen on behalf of the Professional Outplacement Assistance Center (POAC). Weitzen also has an autistic son and he travels the country advocating why it’s important for police officers to familiarize themselves with an autistic individual before approaching them in situations, such as missing person incidents.
A prime example of where this program could be utilized occurred early last Thursday evening when Wayne Police received a call involving a 21 year old autistic female who went missing on foot from her home in the vicinity of Valley Road. The call went out to other jurisdictions, said Reardon, and she eventually was located near Bob’s Store on Route 46 west in Totowa about two hours later.
“Totowa Police were in the area for another incident and they had heard about the missing girl and when they saw someone fitting her description they approached her and she was safely returned to her family,” said Reardon.
This marks the first time Wayne Police have taken part in training such as this, according to Det. Ron Antonucci, who was involved in developing the initiative.
“The training really opened our eyes. It really touches home,” Antonucci said.
The police department as well worked with Christine Kindler, a special needs teacher for Wayne Hills High School, to create an emergency information form to better enhance police officer’s communication and response skills. Kindler offered advice as to what particular questions should be asked of parents/caregivers of autistic individuals.
“The information gathered could change the outcome of the event,” Kindler said.
Besides descriptive information, the form also asks what method of communication, if non verbal, is used such as sign language or written word, what triggers can upset the individual, typical conversation starters that would help officers gain the person’s trust, inclination for wandering behaviors or characteristics that may attract attention, and possible favorite attractions or locations where the person may be found if missing.
There has been a 911 registry in Wayne for years but it only states that there is an autistic or special needs person(s) living at a particular address. However this initiative, says Kindler, allows the police to expand the registry and add more pertinent information.
The program had initially gone out through the Wayne school district as a police initiative but only about four forms have been returned back so Reardon is reaching out to the public via the media in an effort to receive as much information as possible.
Anyone interested in filling a form out can do so by picking one up at the Wayne Police Records Department located inside police headquarters or by going on the township website at www.waynetownship.com and clicking on the ‘Public Safety’ tab then scrolling down to the ‘Special Needs Registry.’
The information is kept strictly confidential and is entered into a police database which officers can quickly access via laptop computers in their vehicles the moment a missing person call is received.
“Within seconds the officer will know everything they need to know and they will also have a photograph of the person they are searching for,” Reardon said.
Another alternative Reardon spoke about is called Project Lifesaver, a national program that utilizes radio technology inside a bracelet equipped with a transmitter that assists officers from Passaic County Sheriff’s Department in locating missing persons with specific illnesses. The bracelet, the size of a large wristwatch, requires daily monitoring by the caregiver, who must reside with the individual and be able to check the bracelet battery signal on a daily basis. Those eligible include Passaic County residents who are prone to wandering due to Autism and Alzheimer’s. The initial cost for the bracelet transmitter and battery is about $285 and there is a monthly cost of $9 to $15. Some funding is available for families in need. For more information call the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department’s Community Policing Unit at 973-389-5920.
Stories like this can be found everywhere. We need to ask ourselves why a once disorder is now so common that everyone knows someone with an autistic child. We need to ask why the rate for autism (now one in every 50 U.S. children, one in 31 among boys alone) is only based on studies of children.
No one has ever been able to show us a comparable rate among adults, especially adults with severe autism, whose symptoms are easily recognized. As this generation of children with autism ages out of school, we’re going to have to learn to deal with a significant part of the population with this serious developmental condition. Training police and EMTs and others is just part of the changes we’ll all have to make. The taxpayers will also face the cost of caring for a million autistic young adults who haven’t been here in the past.
While doctors and health officials still claim that all the autism is just better diagnosing of a condition that’s always been around, stories like this are proof that it hasn’t.
Anne Dachel, Media editor: Age of Autism