Special Doesn't Mean DifferentJun 28, 2021 02:09PM ● By Katrina Hall
April 2021 was Autism Acceptance Month, marking the change from simply being “aware” of autism to accepting the learning and thinking differences (coined as neurodiversity by sociologist Judy Singer) that are part of autism and are present in our communities. The prevalence of Autism has increased in the last decade from 1:125 to 1:54 and has been attributed to genetic, environmental, and biological factors. Each person diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) presents in a unique way. The movement aims to educate family, friends, and the community about the diverse presentation of autism. The increasing percentage of those who have a family member(s) with ASD in Howard County is largely due to the exceptional special education and community services provided. The Howard County Police Department (HCPD) gradually increased its education and outreach to support the safety of those with ASD.
Lieutenant Bill Cheuvront, HCPD, has been a part of the ASD outreach programs since their inception, seeing it grow to the phenomenal resource it is today. “The goal of this partnership is to increase awareness and understanding of ASD among police officers. The more we know as officers, the better prepared we are for interactions in the community,” says Cheuvront. At its start, the voluntary 911 Address Flagging Program registered 70 Howard County families, primarily those families with ASD. Currently the program has 450 addresses voluntarily flagged by residents, including people with ASD, dementia and intellectual, developmental, and physical disabilities.
The partnership between the Howard County Autism Society (HCAS) and HCPD began in 2007 with a program called Project Lifesaver, which provided an ankle-worn tracking device to persons with ASD at risk of wandering or elopement. An offshoot of Project Lifesaver was an initiative called Rapid Return. Rapid Return provided a small tracking device that helped to locate and track those persons at risk for wandering, adding much-needed security to potentially life-threatening situations.
Three HCPD Chiefs, William McMahon, Gary Gardener, and Lisa Myers, have worked tirelessly to effectively address the mental health crises that officers routinely encounter. New officers attend classes taught by Lieutenant Cheuvront on ASD in real-life scenarios, educating and encouraging officers to learn about the families and their experiences. “The recruits and families are amazing, we get emails and calls about positive experiences with law enforcement and these families.” HCPD also invests in Mobile Crisis teams, each with a mental health professional to provide a robust response to crisis intervention.
Cheuvront wants families to communicate with local authorities via the 911 Address Flagging Program’s online application and reiterates that the program extends to EMT’s, firefighters, and other first responders. “We encourage Howard County families to include information they feel would be especially helpful about their loved one, such as preferred communication methods (verbal, non-verbal, assistive technology, iPad, sign, etc.), notable behaviors (aggression, pacing, elopement, wandering), fears (sirens, loud noises, flashing lights, K9s), and medical concerns,” Cheuvront shares.
The application also allows room to note places of interest, such as a bedroom and bodies of water a person may be drawn to or hide in when in distress. Measures to secure persons with ASD such as additional locks and alarms should also be noted in the event a first responder needs to gain quick access. The continued presence and visibility of the HCPD in the Autism community is a pride of the department. Beyond the Badge sponsors a family fun bowling event with HCAS and HCPD, and always has a presence at the annual HCAS Walk & 5K Run. “We’re proud of our program; I just think about how the partnership has expanded over the years. From administering Project Lifesaver to developing the 911 Address Flagging Program to training recruits, it’s all been very rewarding,” beams Cheuvront.