Public Safety

According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission autism study, (Published June 2009, pg. 161-173) individuals with an autism spectrum disorder are more likely to have encounters with public safety personnel than the general public. The study also states that very few public safety personnel have had training specific to autism spectrum disorders.

Individuals with Autism:

  •  Are seven times more likely to encounter law enforcement
  •  Are at risk for bullying
  •  Are at risk for drowning
  •  Are at risk for wandering
  •  May be unable to assist counsel
  •  May not seek assistance
  •  May not recognize abuse

Check out our one page resource sheet on Wandering and Elopement

Avoiding unintended, tragic events through specialized training:  for over 10 years, Commonwealth Autism has been leading the way by providing autism awareness training to law enforcement. In 2009, we intensified our efforts by dedicating a full-time position to public safety training. We have brought together representatives from various state agencies, self-advocates, and parents to form the Virginia Public Safety Workgroup for Autism. Chairing this workgroup, we have developed a five-year plan to provide autism awareness training to all targeted groups.

Through collaboration and partnership with the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services, autism-specific training has been provided at no cost to law enforcement officers, security officers, school resource officers, investigators and detectives. Collaborating with the Virginia Public Safety Workgroup and DCJS, an Autism Awareness Train-the-Instructor curriculum has been developed and is available, at no cost, providing easily accessible training to all law enforcement personnel serving in Virginia.

The Virginia Supreme Court has collaborated and partnered with Commonwealth Autism to develop and implement autism-specific training to the majority of magistrates in Virginia, juvenile and domestic court judges, circuit court judges and other judicial personnel. Additionally, specialized training has been provided to criminal trial attorneys including prosecutors and defense attorneys.

The Virginia Department of Fire Programs, the Virginia Department of Health, and the Virginia Department of Emergency Management Services continue to partner with Commonwealth Autism to provide training to their members. Autism-specific training has been provided at the state level as well to various localities within Virginia.

Commonwealth Autism is the leading source for autism-specific training for law enforcement personnel, firefighters, emergency management services personnel, and judicial personnel. Through this initiative, safety awareness training is provided to self-advocates, family members and caregivers.

Did you see us on CNN? Our Public Safety Coordinator, Didi Zaryczny, was featured in April 2016 with a story on autism and public safety training

General resources for Public Safety:

Crisis Text Line  is a text based hotline for anyone in crisis. Text 741-741 24/7 regarding any type of crisis and a trained counselor will respond within 5 minutes. 

Interviewing children with disabilities regarding suspected abuse

Autism Spectrum Disorders and Public Safety Considerations References and Websites

Law Enforcement

Your rights and law enforcement

What to do if you are detained by police A guide for people with developmental disabilities

What to do if you are arrested A guide for people with developmental disabilities

Virginia DMV

Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) information regarding special identification for individuals with a diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder

The DMV form to request the code on a license or ID card 

Safety Resources

Emergency Information Form

Lethal Outcomes In Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) Wandering/Elopement

SafeLink Wireless’ Lifeline Service

Sample Neighborhood Letter

Family Wandering Emergency Plan

Autism & Wandering