My guest this week is Dennis Debbaudt, a trainer, presenter, and public speaker with over 25 years of experience in autism and law enforcement curriculum development and training for both children and adults. Dennis has created numerous trainings for law-enforcement departments and agencies throughout the country to support law enforcement officers in handling the highest risk scenarios and encounters they may have with people on the autism spectrum and related impairments. He works with police officers and first responders alike to recognize these symptoms in people they encounter in order to lower the likelihood of escalation.
In this episode, Dennis and I discuss how to prepare those with autism to safely interact with law enforcement in high-risk emergency situations. Dennis helps parents and caregivers understand how to evaluate their child or young adult’s independence levels in order to craft a tailored safety plan. Children and young adults on the spectrum or those with communication, cognitive, or behavioral challenges may find themselves misunderstood by others and face uncomfortable accusations and interactions. By working with your child to prepare them for possible encounters in public settings and with law enforcement officials you empower them with tools to advocate for themselves based on their specific abilities. To learn more about Autism Risk Management and Dennis Debbaudt click here.
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- High-Risk situations involving those with autism or other communication, cognitive, or behavior challenges
- The individual may be mistaken as a suspicious person due to their mannerisms in public
- The individual may display signs of aggressive behavior, self-injurious behavior, or aggression towards others they do or do not know
- To someone untrained, this may be understood as classic forms of domestic violence
- These individuals are also at high risk for fatalities when faced with a risk or dangerous proposition that they are unable to determine as unsafe (i.e. water, traffic, tall buildings, bridges)
Teaching Your Child Safety Skills
- Think about your child’s practical skills in the line of safety and start by asking:
- Does the child/young adult have the ability to cross the street safely 100% of the time? This is a pass/fail question.
- How does the child or adult manage interacting with people they do not know while in public places like taking public transportation, going to a retail store, or while making a financial transaction? Are they able to use their body language to assist them in communication?
- Questions like these will help you determine the person’s level of independence
- A plan should include an emergency contact form with information that goes beyond general appearance like name, height, and weight and into the details
- Example: their favorite food, music, what terrifies them or makes them angry/upset
- You want to broaden the information base for the people who are going to arrive (first responder, police, etc.)
- These small steps can make a huge difference in the chance that a situation does one day take place with your child
- These plans are not one size fits all and it is important that it is tailored specifically based on your child’s needs
- Reach out to law enforcement to schedule a see and touch visit, ex: at the fire station, to allow your child to see the people, gear, and vehicles behind possible safety intervention scenarios
Where to learn more about Dennis Debbaudt…
Episode Intro … 00:00:30
Dennis’ Story … 00:02:41
High Risk Scenarios … 00:12:45
Teaching Your Child Safety Skills … 00:24:15
Disclosure Responsibilities … 00:36:40
Episode Wrap Up … 00:43:17
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Hi everyone, welcome to the show, I am Dr. Nicole, and on today’s show, we’re talking about things that can happen when children and young adults with developmental disabilities or really any kind of special need encounter law enforcement officers or first responders of any type. Individuals with communication, social, cognitive and behavioral challenges, including those on the autism spectrum and with related kinds of diagnoses are at a greater risk of having troublesome interactions and outcomes when situations arise where law-enforcement or other public safety professionals are involved. Now, it may not seem like something you need to think about if your child is really young or you haven’t encountered something like this with your child or family before, but the reality is this is something all parents need to be aware of and addressing with their kids. To help us understand the factors involved and how we can advocate for the needs of individuals with these challenges and teach them important skills in this arena, I’ve invited Dennis Debbaudt on the show today. Let me tell you a bit about Dennis.
Dennis has over 25 years of experience in autism and law enforcement curriculum development and training room delivery. He was a licensed investigative agency owner and freelance reporter in Detroit, Michigan and South Florida for 37 years. He’s also a documentary video producer and proud parent of a son who has autism. Dennis has created numerous trainings for law-enforcement departments and agencies around the country, including providing video training, scripts, handouts to support law enforcement officers in handling the highest risk scenarios and encounters they may have with people on the autism spectrum and with related impairments. He also focuses on how police officers and first responders can recognize these symptoms in people they encounter, and lower the likelihood of escalation. It is such an important topic, it’s something that we see with a fair amount of frequency at the clinic, and I’m so glad to have you on the show, today, Dennis. Welcome!
Thank you Dr. Nicole, I’m happy to be here.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
So let’s back up and talk a little bit about how you got involved in this work, because obviously, you have an extensive history in your professional career as a law enforcement officer, as doing that kind of work, but then you also have the parent side of it. So talk a little bit about how all of this came together.
You hit right on it, being the parent of a child with autism is like winning a lotto that you didn’t buy a ticket to. You’re unprepared for either losing that lotto ticket or winning. And we won. Brad came into our life and we learned that he had autism, just shy of his fourth birthday. We were living in Detroit at the time and we vowed at that time to Brad and ourselves that we would learn as much as we could about autism and to help introduce him to the world and the world to him at the same time. Certainly, what I was unprepared for was contacts with law enforcement that came suddenly and without warning. And one incident was the prime mover for me to look into these issues of policing and autism, and how these populations interact with each other. Is there anything remarkable about these interactions? We were at the EastLand Mall. I don’t know if it’s still there in Detroit, it might be. I was with Brad because mom took a day off to go out and shop. It was our day to be together. We visited a toy store. And while we were in the toy store, Brad became upset about something in the store. Probably me not buying him a $300 drivable car! I don’t really know why he became upset, but he did. He was so upset that everybody’s eyes and ears were on us. He was on the carpeted floor, kicking, screaming, red-faced, teary-eyed. When I leaned in to grab and touch him, he wanted to kick, scratch, everything else.
He was small enough where I could pick him up and carry him, which I did. I put him over my shoulder and walked out of the shopping mall back to the parking lot at East Land. I was now putting him into his child seat in the back of the car, and that’s when mall police and Harper Woods police basically blocked me from leaving. The officers got out of the car, got between me and my son and started asking him who I was. And that quizzing of my son started going on and on. It flipped him out, really. To the point, where I finally asked “What is going here?”, they said, “Sir, we’re responding to multiple reports of a possible child abduction from the toy store here in the mall. I went, “Oh, okay.” And it took me a good 10 minutes or so to explain who I was, that he was, in fact, my son. There was a lot of disbelief going on. And in 1988 it was very difficult explaining what autism was to anybody, anybody! Phew, those days are over. So that’s an upgrade for anybody watching. In 1988, nobody knew or had heard the word autism, including us, until our son was diagnosed. But that’s not true anymore. In 2020, most people have not only heard the word, but have met someone with autism: A neighbor, a friend, a relative. At the rates in the late 80’s, it was 2-5 out of every 10,000 people. Now it’s 54 or less. So lots of things have changed, but that incident alone caused me to take a professional look and find out, not only for my son — it was very personal, but I did not like what happened, I was unprepared, the police response was not of the quality that I would have expected. I now understand why they didn’t know he had autism or what it meant, even with the disclosure, it had no value. Where I know now that disclosure is a key factor in providing safety. So I was driving down the right road by telling them, but there was no training at that point. In the early 90’s, I put out a call for information in the autism community with the Autism Society of America in my policing context: Could anybody describe or have any information about interactions between children, adults who have autism, and the police — regardless of what they were?
And I did get a lot of information, and this was pre the internet, so people had to actually mail me things or call me and spend big money to make a phone call. But I did get a lot of information and that contact I had is a classic example of the suspicious person call. Those exist to today and at the root of the suspicious person call is the unknowing nature of it, not only for the police, but the people who are going to interact with them in a hurry. So when people among the general population see it and find the behavior or what they’re saying or hearing suspicious, they are being encouraged, certainly after 9/11 to call 911, and if you see something, say something. So now we have a growing population with that particular risk baked in. And at the root of that is the value of disclosure, which I know now can make a positive effect on these interactions. Not stop them from occurring, but have a positive effect.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, really fascinating how your experience then, as a parent, so directly intersected with your career and experience as a professional to lead you to really be able to address this issue like most parents aren’t. Most parents have a situation like that and they’re like, “I don’t know what to do with that!” And you were able to turn that into, then, really what’s become a lifetime of service and training and teaching for how these kinds of situations can either be avoided or can be handled in a better way, because this is something that, in my experience working with families, whether it happens as you described with a younger child or it happens as I have more experienced in the teen and the young adult and adult years — this is something that most families are facing and dealing with at some point in their child’s life.
Well, it is and as the child grows older, they become larger and by age 12 or 13 or so, they’re becoming adult-sized with adult strength. And the outcomes have been highly publicized but very poor in outcomes when there is no disclosure. And even with disclosure there is no guarantee of an upgrade, but your chances go way up. At least giving the other person in the interaction, in this case, police or other first responders — that information that this is a person that may have difficulty communicating with you or they may need more time to process information, more time to appropriately respond to any requests or questions you might have. With a little bit of training for police and public safety professionals, along with the disclosure will give them an opportunity to put their training into action. Without the disclosure, they now have to discover just why is this person suspicious. And again, it can be a variety of reasons that have a very high risk for law enforcement. This could be someone preparing to commit a crime, this could be someone who is intoxicated on alcohol or on street drugs. This could be somebody preparing to commit a crime, or in the worst-case scenario, someone preparing to commit an act of terror.
And all of that on its face, the body language, the mannerisms, where that person is, will all fit not only autism, but somebody who is drunk, somebody who is innocent, somebody who isn’t, someone who is preparing to do bad things. So that is a situation where decisions have to be made. If we can help through the disclosure, to make some sense of what the experience is for the other person in the interaction, again, safety goes up. So families could have stronghand, I would argue, the most important place in a safety plan, for not only families, but that safety plan includes other people that you don’t know yet who really should and need to be involved in the preparation.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I want to come back to that issue of disclosure and how we help parents and kids with that piece. Let’s touch on, though, because I think the story that you told about the experience you had with your son is probably one of the more common ones, at least for parents with young kids, right? So this issue of a child having an emotional meltdown, an issue — parents needing to support them through or leave the situation, and then other people thinking the child is being abducted or that there is some abuse or something going on. What are some of the other common, in your experience, safety-related issues or kinds of situations parents should be aware of if their child has — whether it is a diagnosis of autism or cognitive challenges, severe communication challenges, behavior challenges — what are some of the more common things that come up when it pertains to law-enforcement?
Yeah, we’re talking about high-risk situations and essentially, we’re looking at this through the prism of risk management. Risk management 101 says you want to address the highest risk situation and then work backwards, as opposed to — well, let’s go with the cat up the tree and then we’ll work up to a barricaded gunman. No you start with the gunman and work back to the car in the tree. In this case, we’ve described a suspicious person contact, and that would also include individuals who are more independent, who are adults, but their general mannerism can seem suspicious to people who are unfamiliar with the sights and sounds of someone who may have autism. Not everybody fits this bill, but enough do. As well as younger children, two other high-risk contacts are covered very thoroughly in my training, and I would recommend they should be covered in all training. And the second one would be aggressive behavior. When the child, and more daunting, when they are now older — a teen or a young adult or a mature adult, adult-sized, if you will — they may get into a place or time where they may become a threat to themselves, self-injurious behaviour or aggression towards others that they know. So in law enforcement vernacular, that is a classic domestic violence call, where people that are known to each other, one is the victim and the other is the perpetrator. But in this case, in most of these incidents, there is no intent, criminal intent attached.You still have a victim. Someone’s hurt, the behavior has to end, but no one is going to be later on charged with a crime. So that is, again, a high-risk issue that can start with suspicious person. It could be what’s so suspicious is someone who is in an aggressive state. And this one we know, for families who have someone who does become aggressive, it can be as frequent as 4-5 times an hour, to less frequent to of 4-5 times a week or a month or a year. Any one of those can cause contact with law-enforcement. If they observe it, they are bound to stop that type of violent interaction, even if unintentional, and certainly if they are called to address it, they must do that.
And then the third, the one that takes the most lives, I believe, tragically. Where there is law enforcement and other first responders in on it, would be when the child or adult is less independent and dependent on the care of an adult, and that would be all children of any disability or people with no disability up to a certain age, I would say 7 or 8, when you get the age of good reasoning, where when confronted with a risk or a dangerous proposition, water, traffic, thick underbrush, a tall building or a bridge — when we recognize the danger of it, we’ll take steps to avoid it, right? We’ll manage it. But for some people, their cognitive skills are at the point where they can’t manage it, they don’t see the risk. They will walk into traffic, they will walk into the water without being able to swim, climb up on the places, very high. So that takes a lot of lives, water, especially, is a dangerous place for people who can not swim for any reason, and when you are attracted to it, as we all are — look, water has all 5 of the sensory attractions here. You can taste it, it twinkles in the light. It has its own sounds, it has its own aromas, it feels good, we’re made up of it — It’s a pretty strong attraction. So when that individual that needs adult assistance breaks away, the outcome is not good. Too often, it ends in death or injury. It certainly ends in great trauma for all involved. Every searcher, every cop, every fire rescue — anyone involved in it, dispatchers, the community at large, searching for a vulnerable missing people has not only financial and time investment, but also an emotional one. To bring it home, it is an activity, a dangerous activity that is well-known to the 5 million or so families in America that are affected by Alzheimer’s and dementia. It’s identical. The people involved may look a little different and why they are involved may come from a different place, but once the activity starts, it’s almost identical.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah. I think it’s really good to sort of lay out those categories of the highest risk situations. So we’ve got the concern about there being abuse or neglect, somebody sees something happen in a public place, you know, the example that you gave, and then another similar example but one that I have run into a lot, as you mentioned, with maybe older individuals or more independent individuals — I’ve had patients who are on the autism spectrum, maybe on their later teen or young adult years now, who maybe just out walking to the store, which is a safe and appropriate activity for them to do, but I’m thinking of one situation in particular — a 20 year old would wear his ear buds with some music in because the sounds of traffic and things were bothersome to him and it helped him stay focused, but he would often have some odd repetitive motor mannerisms an odd gait to his walk, and he was coming back from the convenience store to his home and he lived in a, I’ll say a more affluent neighborhood, and he was coming back and just walking back and suddenly he experienced two cop cars pulling up next to him, somebody from the neighborhood had called, said there is a suspicious young man, he’s acting erratic, I think he stole something from the convenience store, and that led to a whole event.
I think that that’s probably a good example of what you’re talking about with that type of situation, right?
Absolutely. And from that more independent side of the spectrum, you’ll have people who may learn how to drive, but still have unusual characteristics or mannerisms. Around the country and in other countries around the world, in America at the very least, there are several states that passed legislation that gives the more independent person a chance to volunteer disclosure through either their license plate or their driver’s license. It’s not a get out of jail free card, but when that disclosure is there, and some form of training of a certain quality, it needs to be of quality, that law enforcement has — that combination of disclosure and training open up the door to a completely different approach. And for your viewers and really anyone out here by now has probably heard the term SWAT Team, in your lifetime. SWAT is actually an acronym that stands for Special Weapons And Tactics. And if you take out the W and A, you’ve got Special Tactics, which is basically said, is doing things differently.
So the swat philosophy fits in with this where they maybe responding to a barricaded gunman, someone who is threatening suicide or other high-risk potential where they’re barricaded, the SWAT team will be ready to use any force, they will remove people from within a perimeter that they can control, but then they will bring in, what? Special negotiators — People who are trained to speak to folks in distress, they will invest extra time, they will provide a calmer sensory environment. These are all strategies that we would want to use with a person with autism. Heck! If they’re not at a high risk, you’d could do that everyday anyway. So what we’re proposing is not a foreign concept for law enforcement. And in the 25 years I’ve been in training rooms, there are more and more agencies across America that are embracing this, but there are 18,000 police departments in America who are far from getting this training into all of them.
Perhaps it’s time for us to look at some form of mandated training, at least to give on-office tab, a communications, think about how you might interact with someone that you know is from a different country, from a different culture who doesn’t speak our language well, if at all — that would be a good comparison, one that I teach in the classroom. What would you do if you knew this person was from central Asia, from Mongolia, and they have totally different customs, they eat different food, act differently — Would you act differently? Would you take steps to maybe get an interpreter or invest more time or call in and say, “Hey, sarge, I’ve got a special case here, this one’s going to take longer!” Sure you would. And so you should when it is autism too, with exceptions. If someone is in danger, there are certain requirements that law enforcement must go through. If we can broaden the knowledge-base, give them more options, everybody — so that, the issue of disclosure is going to be every family’s or individual’s personal choice.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Right, well let’s get into that a bit because I want to have you share with our listeners who are primarily parents — what are some of the things that they need to be thinking about here, both in terms of how they may handle some things, but also, what they teach their children, in terms of how to handle these situations? What do you recommend there, because you’ve talked quite a bit about disclosure, so I want you to define what that is, and it sounds like that’s a really valuable and important thing for us to be teaching kids and adults with these challenges to be able to do in some way, shape or form.
Yeah, I think life skills in the area of safety should be taught from day one. If the child is 3 or 4 and it’s pre-primary in their class to have a lesson plan for that. Throughout their education and really throughout your lifetime. We do these tasks without thinking. We pay insurance bills, we put on seat-belts. These are all risk-management skills and we don’t think about the consequences, it doesn’t scare us, we just do it. So it has to be that road. For families, I think the first part of disclosure is to think about your child or older child, adolescent or the adult you love and think about their practical skills in the area of safety. Are they able to — I think a base-line question here for anyone is: Does the person have the ability to cross the street safely, 100% of the time? This is an activity you can’t get a 99% at. “I’ve got 99 here!” 99 is going to kill you one day if you cross enough streets. The 1% is going to come up and bite you. So that’s an activity that we need to think about. And there are others. How does the child or adult — do you think in the future that they will be able to manage interacting with people they don’t know, crossing that street, using public transportation, going to a retail outlet, and making a financial transaction close to accurately? How well are they either able to speak or to use other forms of communication so others understand them? Most of — I speak, as you can see, a lot with my body here, as do most people. So what we say is good, it’s a nice hood ornament for our body, the general population expressions. So I would want parents, family members to make a decision on where that person may be on the independence scale. That will give you an idea of, okay, who is going to need the lesson here? I would say the parents of younger children, regardless of disability or not, you’re the consumer. Start teaching safety — of people in uniform what personal safety is, who can touch you, who can see you without clothes on — parents, maybe grandparents, aunt and uncle — but not the cop, not the postman, not the neighbor lady or anybody else. Those would be part of these skill sets that you would teach, even if you’re not sure that this person is ever going to be cognitively ready for being independent in the community. Even if you think they might not be, doesn’t mean you should stop teaching.
So you’re preparing yourself as well as this student. So for the person that you think is going to be more independent, you really want to hit their skillset because the chances are good, as with my son, that he is his own first responder here. He drives, he works. Yes, does he still have difficulty reading the intentions of other people or understanding that because they smile that they are to be trusted? Sometimes he makes mistakes here too, we learn from those. So we have to measure where everybody is at on the independence scale. The second part is to have a plan in place that you can rehearse, practice and become better at. A plan should include — and at my website, we’ll give a link, there is an autism emergency contact form. It’s a template that you could look at and would give things that you would want law enforcement or public safety to know before they’ve met your son or daughter. What would you want them to know? So beyond what they look like and how much they weigh and the colors of their clothes and what not, and their name of course, it would be things like — what do they like to eat? What is their favorite music, what do they like to do? What terrifies them? What makes them angry? So again, broadening the information base for the people who are going to arrive, we can teach and do, in the training room to police, what autism responses can look like in a general nature. The tips and advice I provide are designed to work with many people, but they can not work with everybody because of the nature of the spectrum, the differences from one person to the next.
What the upgrade here is — so we’re flying coach here, you want to fly first class? Give the responder a manual about a particular person. That’s flying first class. It’s not the child or the adult on the spectrum, may like Thomas the Tank Engine, may like the Detroit Tigers, may like certain types of music or animals. We’re saying that this particular person does like these. So that kind of information is the upgrade.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And do you recommend that parents are engaging with law enforcement in their community in a proactive way with this? Going and talking with them, giving them this information before they even have an interaction with them so that the first responders or people in their community are aware of their child?
Yes. I do. So every policing agency, all 18,000 of them get the value of community interactions. Most of them have a community policing officer or department. Larger departments will have many people involved, but each officer understands the value of understanding and knowing their community. That’s a good thing in policing and we need to have more of that. So even if you go to your police department and they haven’t heard this yet, don’t let that one initial experience stop you from going back. It’s okay to go back. That’s fine, that’s fair. It’s also okay to be at the paranoid door at night, putting on a seatbelt or preparing for things that for many, if not most us, never happen. I won’t get into an accident, they’re not breaking into my house, I didn’t die. So we do all these activities without thinking too much about it. I’m saying for managing the safety of someone who may be more vulnerable than a typical person, it’s essential.
So management depends on the individual here, your safety plan may be something that you need to review every 8 hours, at a so-called home for someone who is totally dependent on the care of others for everything in their life: Food, shelter clothing, safety, security, quality of life — every bit of it. And the parents are not gone and they are in their 40’s. They may have to review that safety plan every shift change because things change and when they change, you need to change along with it. But for most of us, at least a bottom line of looking at it once a month after you get your form filled out, you talk to your sister-in-law or your brother or somebody with whom you can make a phony phonemail to 911. If the toddler is old enough to do it, let them prepare that way, through mock engagement. Do reach out to law enforcement and fire rescue, especially fire rescue, they have facilities and a work schedule that’s more prone to having time to allow people to come in and visit and see and touch and get inside of vehicles, see who is inside of all of that funny-looking gear. It’s a great place to invite their brothers and sisters in law enforcement to stop by. Leave the clowns, the food, the music and the games. Do that some other time. Plan plenty of these visits to a facility such as a firehouse. Do it for a short duration, but repeat them more often to drive the lessons home.
So as a practical matter, you are now involving the people that will need to be called during an emergency, if it happens. They are learning about a population that will need more attention if that happens. And so it’s an exercise, that if it pays off once, it was worth every minute.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Absolutely, and I think even if there never is an incident, just the peace of mind that that brings to parents, knowing that they’ve been proactive and done some of that, that that’s of significant value as well, I think.
Well, of course, it is. And if it is wandering or escapism, them being vulnerable and alone, search and rescue — yes, there are tracking devices that are available out here, there should be some form of devices within your home from a simple bell on a window or a door to electronics and wireless services that can tell you somebody has left a perimeter. These are all options that you would want to explore. Certainly take a look around your house for dangerous items, whether it’s things that you can ingest or objects that you can harm yourself or others with. Those would be all a part of your safety plan, reviewing it once a month. Set a time and day. When I was growing up, they used to scare the hell out of us by having air raid warnings at 11 o’clock in the morning, one Saturday a month as if the Russians were going to come over here and what mess with our election or something? At the time, we thought it was a nuclear invasion! But it got us in tune with doing something to prepare, and I would say put it on your calendar and make it into an event that may last 15 or 20 minutes. If it needs to be longer, great, but now you have it planned and documented. Make sure you make your notes and from that process, you will be preparing for what you will do if an emergency comes up. It will be less likely to be overcome with “What the hell is going on?” A little bit of preparation can go a long way.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
I love that, and I want to touch on — going back to the disclosure piece, obviously with a younger child or an older individual whose cognitive capacity is such that they are always with someone else, it seems that the disclosure piece then falls on the parent or the other support person who is with them, right? So I want you to talk about what that can look like, what do parents or caregivers — what’s the best way to disclose if they find themselves in the middle of a situation — what’s the best way to do that? but I also want you to talk about for those individuals who are more independent, who are out in the community on their own, either as an older child or an adult — what are the ways that we should be teaching them to disclose their challenges?
That’s an extremely good question. I have a variety of answers, but just clear this straight-up: All of the information. Whether it’s you disclosing by yourself or on behalf of somebody else, it’s all voluntary. No one is forcing you to do this. So then you have complete control over what information you choose to share if any. If you don’t want to disclose, that’s your choice too. And for many on the spectrum, people who I know, they would be able to verbally speak for themselves, even under anxiety or pressure. But that doesn’t mean everyone has that. So let’s look at the more independent person. Carrying some form of ID or card that says what your condition is, especially if you are driving, it can be a potential life-saver if you’re comfortable with it. If you’re comfortable with a hard disclosure, a hard disclosure is “I have autism, and whatever information you want people to read. A soft disclosure would be, “I have sensitivity towards loud noises and lights, the shiny objects that you’re carrying are hurting my eyes.” That would be a disclosure of discomfort and a request for an accommodation without disclosing that you have autism. So there are a variety of approaches for the more independent folks among us.
I totally get the concept of its privacy. I get that, but under the ADA, the ADA only requires — and not only, especially requires reasonable accommodations. It may be unreasonable to ask the police to be accurate 100% of the time and make a quick decision about whether somebody has autism or not. That’s quite an ask. It could be discussed, but I’m thinking that’s a task that no one could ever perform, and I don’t care how many letters you have after your name. Now, for the less independent folks, I would say that same autism information form, as a template, look at that as something that could not only be printed out and carried in your purse, in your wallet, in somebody’s backpack, in the glove box, in the sun visor, placed around your home — it can also be embedded in the 911 call center. It could be associated with your home, with the phone numbers that are associated with the home, whether it’s a cell or a hardline. It could also be connected — these are plans that I have seen in place in North America. It could be your license-plate numbers or 3 or 4, so if a law enforcement ran that plate number, up would pop an alert form that would be autism-based and you would have access to whatever information that you chose to disclose.
So it can be as much or as little detail as you’re comfortable providing, but it can prove invaluable. So another way for families to share that would be to have that same information in a thumb drive, something like this, or on your cell phone, in a quick code, QR code — there is a variety of technology that if the end-user knew, they could waive their cell phone over the code and now your information would pop up on the form. So there are a variety of ways to get that information out. You should also be prepared to verbalize it, but let’s just say you get into an accident, mom or dad and your child or children who are on the spectrum are in the car, and guess what? You’re injured and you’re knocked out and they’re fine. You can not speak for them anymore, so we need to prepare for that too. So having that information in vehicles, bumper stickers that say “I love someone with autism” or “occupant with autism, may not be able to respond, safety-alert”. The word autism itself is a disclosure, and all of its slang: Aspie, on the spectrum —
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Yeah, I’m Stimming, I’m neurodiverse. Exactly, these are also disclosures that in the training, I teach the law enforcement and the 911 telecommunications to understand the idiomatic terms for autism, the slang that we use. So when they hear it, it’s not foreign anymore. Especially the 911 folks, when they hear a term that is very pejorative, usually when it’s heard, when I say — “Oh, that Nicole, she’s not all there”, that has a really bad connotation, yet within it, I’m giving you actionable intelligence. Most people when they hear it, somebody is not all there, which means they may have difficulty processing information or whatever. That disclosure shouldn’t be ignored. It should be passed to the frontline so they can make a decision. So license plates in Michigan and around the country, there are no over 25 — or half the country are now issuing license plates that have the word autism on it in one way, shape or form. There will be a symbol or puzzle piece — they all have the word autism. So all of these are disclosures. I’m wearing a little wristband here that has “Autism” on it. It could be a T-Shirt, it could be a hat. So these symbols of awareness, I teach that they are also symbols of disclosure. So if you see an autism bumper sticker and you’re a cop in a traffic stop. You’ve got a green light here, officer, to start talking about autism. That bumper sticker gave you the authority to do this.
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
Such practical and helpful information for parents and I think that disclosure piece is so important, it has even got my wheels turning about some ways even here in our clinic that we can support families in having a plan for that. So I know that this information has been helpful. I want to make sure as we wrap here, that people know where they can get more information about the resources and the things that you provide, because you have a wealth of resources, particularly for parents who may be interested in having some of the agencies and law enforcement officers in their community be able to take advantage of some of these things. So what is the best website? Where is the best place for people to find out more about what you’re doing?
Okay. I guess it will show on the screen here when I’m doing this: I have a couple of websites. One is autismriskmanagement.com. There you will find the autism emergency contact form, some selections of reports that I have written over the almost 30 years, and you will have within there some guides about disclosure and what we can teach the less independent or the more independent student. A starting place. Places for you to read up. It’s under “Downloadable Resources”. The second website is debbaudtlegacy.com. It’s where law enforcement can go. Anyone that is interested in getting a training going, these days because of the new Coronavirus quarantine and the new lives we’re all living, I can provide online direct training, or still live where it’s safe to do so. Through there, or any time, DDPI@flash.net is my email address, I’d be happy to hear from everyone out here. I just want everybody to stay safe here, and along the way have a little fun too!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
That’s right. It’s been such a pleasure to have you here today to share this information. I know that parents and professionals will find this so valuable, so thank you so much for taking time to be on the show.
Thank you, Dr. Nicole, take care!
Dr. Nicole Beurkens:
And thanks to all of you for listening, we’ll catch you back here next week for our next episode of The Better Behavior Show!