Multicultural News

Indiana’s first responders receive communication boards to serve people with autism

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The Autism Society of Indiana has set out to equip first responders in 60 Indiana counties with communication boards.

The hope: Help police better serve people who have autism or are nonverbal.

So far, the nonprofit Autism Society of Indiana and its partnership with the Today’s Champions group has handed out over 6,000 communication boards. They are simple, folded pamphlets allowing officers to better communicate with people by letting them simply point to words pictures and even letters. The Autism Society and Today’s Champions each promotes autism advocacy. A grant is funding the effort.

Speedway, Indiana, Police Department Lt. Robert Dine said that the communication boards “provide us another additional tool to communicate with someone who is autistic or is just nonverbal.”

Dine and fellow officers were some of the first to test out the communication boards. They will undergo training. Eventually, every Speedway officer will have the boards.

“With a ‘yes’ and ‘no,’ and keys. So if they need to type out a name or number, if you will, it’s going to give us an additional tool to gain information, and figure out what they need so we can service,” Dine said.

Ben Hodgin, president of Today’s Champions, talks about the need among first responders for the boards in communicating with people who have autism. “It’s intended to help them in an escalated moment be able to help them communicate with first responders.”

He says an estimated 1 of every 6 children will be diagnosed with autism, and the spectrum is broad. While many people have no problem with communicating, many on the spectrum are nonverbal or have limited communications skills.

“I think it’s difficult to understand everybody and everything, and what they’re feeling. This is one way then we would make sure there’s a better understanding,” Hodgin said.

Dine says the officers undergoes training to respond to mental health and autism calls, and look forward to see how vital the communication boards will prove to be. “Community policing is very big so this is a prime example of the community coming together working hand-in-hand,” the police lieutenant said.

The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department is up next. It will get 1,400 of the communication boards next week.