Every day in Montgomery, Laurie Reyes has a direct view of challenges facing families. She is a county police officer whose job is to help vulnerable residents’ caregivers. On average, Reyes says, two or three people with autism wander away from their homes every week.
The officer works with families to employ a “layered” approach to keep kids and adults safe: Identification bracelets, information letters given to neighbors, in-home therapists, alarm systems, electronic tracking bracelets. But even the best defenses don’t always work.
Reyes sees a difference between children who go missing and the adults who do so.
People are more apt to intervene when they see an 8-year-old walking down the street. But someone older or full-grown, even if acting erratically? People might drive right by, too intimidated to approach. [Unless the ASD adult is acting erratically, he or she looks like any other adult walking down the street.]
“If you have a little child, people are going to jump to help,” Reyes says. “That’s a huge dynamic.”
The officer has worked with families of autistic children for 10 years and has learned to broaden her duties. She trains patrol officers in the best ways to communicate with people who are autistic. She works with social workers to try to get kids and adults into programs.
And she’s even testified to support legislation that would prompt health insurance companies to pay for in-home alarm systems — asserting that in the simplest of terms, that can be a medical need. But to date, she’s gotten insurance payments for only two systems.
“It’s a fight to get that coverage,” Reyes says.