Police in Massachusetts are handing out seat belt covers that could put parents of some special needs children and young adults at ease. The covers help first responders at the scene of an emergency on the road identify if a person in the vehicle is on the autism spectrum.
If Margaret Cole was ever in an emergency on the road, she says she’s unsure how her son Cameron would react.
“He absolutely would not know what to do and he would not respond appropriately, if, if, you know, if there was, you know, any emergency whatsoever. If there was an accident he absolutely would not have any idea what to do. He might, you know, react completely wrong,” Margaret Cole said.
When she heard about a project by the Norfolk County Sheriff’s Department offering seat belt covers to let first responders know the person wearing it is on the autism spectrum, she stopped by the Norwood Police Department as soon as she could. The Sheriff says he got the idea from a program in the UK but it’s the first he knows of in the US.
“It really became a front burner issue for me when we had somebody come into our care and custody, that we didn’t really pick up that he was on the autism spectrum,” Norfolk County Sheriff Jerry McDermott said.
And because of the simplicity of them they’ve been very popular, here in Norwood they started off the week with about 30 of them, now here on Sunday they only have about 3 left.
“Not just police officers but any first responder may happen upon a scene where a mom or dad is incapacitated and the child in the car is on the autism spectrum. They may be non verbal or their communication skills may not be such that they can discuss what’s happening with that first responder,” McDermott said.
Margaret says she knows Cameron is safer with first responders knowing that he has autism.
“Let’s say, like, we got in an accident on the highway or something and, you know, they’re responding to me because he looks fine, he could actually just run right into the road,” Cole said
And officers we spoke with say the more information they have the better.
“It just makes everything simpler for us, fire for any first responder,” Norwood Police Officer Sunyub Hwang said.
“I think nowadays with the rise of autism and the awareness which is huge that anything we can do to let people know that there will be situations absolutely and we need to be aware and make sure he is not harmed as a result of something like that,” Cole said.
The sheriff’s department is working with several organizations on the project including the Flutie foundation, the Arc of Massachusetts and Autism Speaks. They are available for free at police departments and the sheriff’s department in Norfolk County.