MONROE, LA (7/10/20)– Two local women who work for the Autism Society of North Louisiana have spent the last few months working with representative Francis Thompson on a new bill that will protect those on the Autism Spectrum. House bill 317 will allow those with autism to get a symbol placed on their driver’s license, so police and first responders will know immediately that the driver has Autism. The flashing lights, sirens, and not knowing who the officer is could trigger a sensory overload for those on the spectrum.
“Sometimes those on the autism spectrum may have that fight or flight, they may walk off if you are trying to talk to them, they may not have the communication skills, and they may not be able to talk to you,” said Dr. Dawn Stanfield, co-founder of Badge Buddies.
In addition, the bill requires police officers to take a course that will train them on interacting with those on the spectrum. House Bill 317 is a tool for both the driver and the police officer.
“If they have this training and they understand the communication differences and some of the behavior differences with individuals with autism, then they may not misinterpret some of that behavior as being disrespectful or non-compliant,” said Amber Boykin, President of Autism Society of North Louisiana.
However, this bill wasn’t meant to be a financial burden for officers. A local non-profit, “Badge Buddies”, has been training first responders for free over the past year. The Autism Society says they plan to team up with the non-profit.
“All of these individuals that keep us safe on a daily basis, this is just more training for them to be able to do their job at the best level possible,” said Dr. Stanfield.
Officials say only 30 percent of teens with Autism get their driver’s license as parents worry about how they may react to being pulled over or during a crisis situation. However, thanks to the bill, a symbol on a license can speak louder than “Odd behavior” that comes with sensory overload.
“As mothers to children with autism, we really can kind of breathe knowing that both police officers are safer and our children are safer,” said Jan Strickland, government relationship for Autism Society of North Louisiana.
The bill will go into effect on August 1st of this year. The Autism Society of North Louisiana will have a summer institute training later this month. For more information about the Autism Society Of North Louisiana, click here. To read the entire HB317, click here.