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York County, VA: Sheriff and deputies learn about autism; magnets to identify cars

Mar 28, 2023, Virginia Gazette: For sheriff’s office, magnets offer proof of autism awareness

YORK — A new car magnet in York County and Poquoson has nothing to do with politics, sports or honor roll students.

This rainbow-colored infinity loop has a job to do: alert law enforcement officials that a person inside the vehicle may have autism spectrum disorder or other special needs.

The York-Poquoson Sheriff’s Office is offering the free Autism Acceptance magnets as part of an ongoing drive to help its deputies better recognize and react to common symptoms of the developmental disorder. …

“Unfortunately, a lot of actions could be misinterpreted,” Montgomery said. “The more we understand and the more tools we have to respond, the better we can deescalate situations for people with autism and, we hope, other mental health concerns.”

Along with educational sessions from the Autism Society Tidewater Virginia, the office is beginning to use picture or letter boards for nonverbal individuals and “sensory bags” with comfort items such as headphones, fidget toys and sunglasses.

Residents also can fill out a “heads-up” form to share details on people with autism living in a home. That information goes into the local 911 system to guide responders in case of an emergency call, similar to Project Guardian run by the Newport News Police Department….

An estimated 1% of the world’s population has autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Roughly one in 44 children in the United States has been diagnosed, with boys more than four times more likely to present symptoms than girls….

Miller held two training sessions for York-Poquoson this winter, passing out binders of information and sensory bags at each. She plans to hold four more in the spring to reach all of the agency’s 117 sworn law enforcement officers, as well as two classes to develop trainers within the department….


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