SOMERSET — Chief George McNeil is pleased to share the Somerset Police Department’s support of autism acceptance during the month of April, which is recognized as Autism Awareness Month worldwide.
“As part of Autism Awareness Month, we work to celebrate our differences and promote acceptance of these differences,” Chief McNeil said. “Autism affects many families in our communities and around the state, including police families, so this campaign resonates with many people. We hope that with initiatives like seatbelt sleeves and patches, we are able to raise awareness and encourage our community members to show support and understanding for those on the autism spectrum and their experiences.”
According to the Autism Society, autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the U.S. with 1 in 54 children diagnosed, totaling over 5 million young people and adults.
The Autism Society describes autism as a complex, lifelong developmental disability that can impact a person’s relationships, self-regulation, communication and social skills. Signs of autism can often include repetitive behaviors, lack of response to normal stimuli or cues, atypical verbal communication or non-speaking, difficulty expressing feelings, avoiding eye contact and more.
Somerset Police officers are trained on interactions with people who have special needs at in-service training. Officers also take specialized classes, some of which are taught by officers from around the Commonwealth who have children on the autism spectrum.
Last month, the SEMLEC (Southeastern Massachusetts Law Enforcement Council) Search and Rescue and Mobile Command Units, of which Chief McNeil is the Control Chief, responded to assist a member agency with a search for a missing person. The unit is requested to assist in searches to provide additional resources to the department or if there are other special factors involved, such as the missing person’s age or possible medical conditions.
In this particular case, the missing person was autistic and non-verbal. As part of the search response, officers in the unit were able to speak with the individual’s caretaker and physician to get information on the missing person’s usual behavior and how the person may respond in certain situations. This provided the unit with important information to help direct the search, and the individual was ultimately found unharmed.
Additionally, as part of Autism Awareness Month, the Somerset Police Department is participating in the Autism Police Patch Program throughout the month of April. Through the program, Somerset Police will be offering a special patch to members of the public who donate $10 or more to the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism.
Those who wish to receive a patch can purchase one on the Somerset Police Department’s Facebook page on the “Shop” tab.
The department also has special autism awareness seatbelt sleeves available. The sleeves help first responders identify if a person in a vehicle is on the autism spectrum during an emergency, allowing them to respond accordingly.
Autism sleeves are free to Somerset residents. Residents who wish to receive a sleeve are asked to message the department’s Facebook page with their address. Non-residents can purchase a sleeve for $10 on the Facebook page on the “Shop” tab.
Sleeves and patches are also available at the station’s dispatch, 465 County St. All proceeds go to the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism.
The Flutie Foundation provides financial assistance for families caring for a loved one with autism and educates the public about autism spectrum disorder. To learn more, click here.
Somerset Police continuously sell autism patches throughout the year and raised several hundred dollars for the Flutie Foundation last year. The department has also given away hundreds of seatbelt sleeves at no cost to Somerset residents.