The Politics of Autism includes an extensive discussion of policy initiatives in the states. New York recently enacted ID legislation
by Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara. Speaking to Bethany Bump of the Albany Times-Union, he explains the need for state law:
[The] bill, sponsored by Santabarbara in the Assembly and Pamela Helming in the Senate, will create an optional, standardized identification card for individuals with a developmental disability. It could include information about the person's diagnosis, as well as an emergency contact number and address.
The goal, Santabarbara said, is to help vulnerable individuals convey important information to first responders in the event of an emergency or during an interaction with law enforcement.
He pointed to an incident in Arizona last year in which a police officer forcibly restrained an autistic 14-year-old who was playing with a piece of string in a public park, slammed him against a tree and pinned him to the ground, believing his repetitive behavior was a sign of drug use.
It wasn't. It was what's known in the autism community as self-stimulation or "stimming" — a common behavior involving repetitive movements or sounds that helps individuals with developmental disorders cope with their surroundings. The incident caused outrage after body camera footage was released.
"I said look, 'If we don't do something this is going to happen here and nobody wants that,'" Santabarbara said. "It would have been a different situation if, when the officer frisked the teen he found his ID card or had some training."
The ID bill, he said, will work in concert with an earlier bill he sponsored that created a statewide program to train police officers and first responders in recognizing the signs of autism, as well as how to respond to such individuals.
A number of local municipalities and organizations have offered unofficial versions of ID cards over the years, but they don't contain standardized language and may not be readily recognized by first responders, he said.