Tuesday, state Rep. Mack Butler, R-Rainbow City, on Tuesday encouraged legislative leaders to give swift passage to his bill that would provide drivers on the Autism Spectrum with the option of applying for a specialty license plate identifying their condition to law enforcement officers.
“A constituent whose son has been diagnosed with Autism suggested this legislation as a way of easily notifying law enforcement officers that a driver is on the spectrum in case of traffic stops or other interactions,” Butler said. “I am in full support of law enforcement officers and their ability to carry out a difficult job in sometimes extreme conditions, but after seeing some troubling video of an encounter in which officers were unaware that the person they stopped was autistic, it is obvious this legislation is much needed.”
House Bill 495 would allow a driver with a valid Autism Spectrum Disorder card to apply for and purchase a special “Person With Autism” license plate for their vehicle, which would readily identify the individual to law enforcement.
Purchase of the Autism tag would be completely voluntary and in no way mandatory for drivers who are diagnosed on the spectrum.
“This legislation could change lives for the better and provide a valuable service to both autistic drivers and the officers who interact with them,” Butler said. “With remaining legislative days dwindling rapidly, I have asked the legislative leadership to give this bill quick passage.”
According to the advocacy group Autism Speaks, “On a daily basis police officers encounter a multitude of individuals in emergency situations. Just as each emergency differs from the next, so does the individual involved, especially in regards to individuals with Autism Spectrum disorders. Police are trained to respond to a crisis situation with a certain protocol, but this protocol may not always be the best way to interact with individuals with Autism.”
While many persons with Autism are high functioning some are much less so.
According to Autism Speaks person with autism might: have an impaired sense of danger; wander to bodies of water, traffic or other dangers; be overwhelmed by police presence; fear a person in uniform (ex. fire turnout gear) or exhibit curiosity and reach for objects/equipment (ex. shiny badge or handcuffs); react with “fight” or “flight”; not respond to “stop” or other commands; have delayed speech and language skills; not respond to his/her name or verbal commands; avoid eye contact; Engage in repetitive behavior (ex. rocking, stimming, hand flapping, spinning); have sensory perception issues; or have epilepsy or seizure disorder.
If a first responder is able to identify that a child or adult may have Autism, he or she can then respond in a way that best supports the individual.
HB495 has been referred to the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety.
Butler represents House District 30 in Etowah and St. Clair Counties. He is running for state Senate representing Senate District 11, which includes Etowah and parts of Dekalb and Cherokee Counties.