PAOLA, Kan. — April is Autism Awareness Month. A trend of support across the country started in Miami County, Kansas. It bridges the gap between people on the spectrum and those in law enforcement.
The Lakemary Center in Paola and the Miami County Sheriff’s Office teamed up to provide autism sensory items for patrol vehicles.
One of their own, at the Sheriff’s Office, was the inspiration.
“It’s amazing because it makes me feel acceptance and I know there’s a brighter future,” Bryce Carter said.
Carter is the technology whiz at the Sheriff’s Office.
He’s on the spectrum and uses a tablet to communicate.
“Yes, yes I love where I work and the people I work with,” Carter said.
It’s helpful, much like the Sheriff’s Office’s sensory items. They’re meant to build a bridge between people of all ages on the spectrum and those who wear a badge.
He worked to get a $2,500 grant. It purchased autism sensory items, like fidget toys, white boards, weighted stuffed animals and communication boards.
There’s a backpack, gifted by Lakemary, for each of their 16 patrol cars.
“It’s just understanding,” Kelly said. “When we can understand what they’re going through and understanding what tools that we have to help them out, that’s what it’s all about.”
Tracie Howell with Autism Speaks said this effort speaks volumes.
“It gives them that opportunity to maybe relax, calm down and maybe communicate in their method,” Howell said.
Deputies have already put the backpacks to good use while on patrol.
“We see it all the time,” the Deputy Sheriff said.
Kelly said about a dozen agencies across the county have reached out wanting guidance on implementing their own program.
“Blue is a symbol of autism awareness,” Kelly said.
Sheriff’s Office employees have the opportunity to wear blue badges through April.
They bought the badges with their own money and are selling ribbons to show support.
All proceeds go to Lakemary.
“Accept people with autism because we have so much to give the world and we will always accept you,” Carter said. “Being different is not a bad thing.”
Last month, Lakemary held a training course for the Sheriff’s Office to teach them how the autism sensory items are used.
Capt. Kelly hopes that similar bags of sensory items will soon extend to local and national fire and EMS departments.