Channel 9 & 10 Mason County Sheriff Highlights Autism Initiative

Channel 9 & 10 News Article from April 29, 2023

April is Autism Awareness Month.

One Northern Michigan police agency wants to highlight a program that helps first responders deal with situations that involve people with autism.

The Mason County Sheriff’s Office says the program isn’t new, but it isn’t well known. It involves profile and emergency contact forms for people with autism. These forms let first responders know their background ahead of time.

“Individuals living with autism, they can lash out. They can run. They can sit there and curl up and not communicate. And some aren’t able to communicate,” Mason County Sheriff Kim Cole said.

Cole said that kind of knowledge can help keep misunderstandings from happening and things from escalating, keeping everyone involved safe.

He said having that background information can help them support people with autism,

“If we know that going into the call, we can shut our lights and sirens off, you know, down the road before we get there and then turn our radios down when we come into the house and try to do everything we can, to make it as peaceful interaction as possible,” Cole said.

The sheriff’s department said they have donated kits inside every patrol car and inside are a bag of tricks that help them interact with people with autism. Items inside include things like cards with visual cues to help with communication and fidget toys to help calm them down.

Bruce Ferguson is an autism advocate with the Autism Support of Michigan.

He has an adult autistic daughter who is nonverbal. He’s also the chief of at the Dewitt Police Department in Clinton County. He said his department has a similar reporting system for people with autism. He also helps with autism training crisis interventions. He said it gives him peace of mind that other police agencies are doing these types of initiatives.

“They just exhibit behaviors that people don’t understand, or they like. They take off running, they elope, we love to have the community and the officers know how to how to de-escalate, how to intercede in their behaviors and where to look for them if they do elope,” said Ferguson.

For more information on how to fill out one of these forms you can contact the Mason County Sheriff’s Office.

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