[M]any police departments have trained officers and other first responders how to spot signs of autism and respond accordingly. Some organizations have also published identification cards that ASD adults can carry in order to defuse potential conflicts. Virginia provides for an autism designation on driver licenses and other state-issued identification cards. Once again, however, the dilemma of difference comes into play. One autistic Virginian worries: “Great, so if I get into an accident, who’s the cop going to believe, the guy with the autistic label or the guy without it?” Clinical psychologist Michael Oberschneider is concerned about the understanding level of first responders: “I think many people still think of Rain Man or, more recently, the Sandy Hook Shooter, when they think of autism even though very few people on the autistic spectrum are savants or are homicidal and dangerous.”
Ilyse Levine-Kanji at WBUR-FM:
The “Blue Envelope Bill,” currently before our Legislature’s Senate Ways and Means committee, could make these potentially disastrous encounters far less likely. The bill would allow a driver with an autism diagnosis to request a blue envelope — which could be attached to the driver’s-side sun visor — to alert law enforcement of the driver’s diagnosis in case of a traffic stop or accident. These blue envelopes could help to avoid potentially tragic misunderstandings at minimal cost.
The bill has the support of the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, the State Police Association of Massachusetts Troopers, the Massachusetts Police Association and the Municipal Police Training Institute. The legislation under consideration is modeled after a law Connecticut implemented in 2020, at the urging of the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association.
This would affect more individuals and families than you might think. About one in 36 children in the United States is estimated to have autism. And there’s a troubling connection between people with an intellectual, developmental and/or psychiatric disability (including autism) and police violence. For example, a 2016 study (that looked at data from 2013 to 2015) found that disabled individuals make up one-third to one-half of all police shooting victims. Time reported in 2020 that “there is no reliable national database tracking how many people with disabilities, or who are experiencing episodes of mental illness, are shot by police each year” (the topic for another essay) but it seems likely that disabled individuals who are also Black have an even higher likelihood of being the target of police violence.