The police department in the central Missouri town of Moberly has launched a voluntary autism directory aimed at helping improve officers’ interactions with people on the autism spectrum.

Personal information on the form includes names, addresses, descriptions, special tics and more so police can identify and help people who have autism, the Columbia Missourian reports.

Police say the goal is to help responders understand what might make a person agitated and how to calm the person down in a stressful situation. Commander Tracey Whearty said gathered information will be for police and first responders only.

Moberly police reached out to several groups that deal with mental health issues while formulating the program. They also got help from parents like Nikki and Brett Soendker, who have three children on the autism spectrum. Nikki Soendker is founder of an autism charity and awareness group.

Through that cooperation, the forms were updated with additional information first responders might need to know about a child or adult with autism: Does the person wander? Are there sensory issues that could be upsetting, such as the lights or siren of a police car? Are there challenges with verbalizing?

While some parents applaud the directory, others worry it could be used to discriminate against people with autism.

“I can see the good in something like this, but I think that we have all seen too much in history and in movies where registries like this go bad,” said Robyn Schelp, whose son has a rare genetic disorder and cerebral palsy.

Others like Lara Wakefield, a parent advocate for people with special needs, and Christina Ingoglia, a parent of a child with Mowat-Wilson syndrome, a rare genetic condition, believe the directory should be expanded to include people with other kinds of disabilities.

Many children who aren’t on the autism spectrum still have disabilities that make interactions with people in emergency situations difficult, Ingoglia said.

While Schelp has concerns, she also sees possible benefits.

“What if mom or dad is unconscious and the kid needs help?” she asked. “Someone needs to know this information in order to help.”

Moberly Police Department
Kurt Parsons

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