New Michigan laws aimed to help police interact with people with autism, communication disorders

Michigan residents with autism or hearing loss can get a special designation privately loaded onto on licenses or identification cards.
New system for identifying special needs
Published: Jun. 28, 2021 at 6:10 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WILX) - What started as an effort to protect those with autism, turned into two bills to help people with communication impediments across the state. Senate bills 278 and 279 will improve the way police deal with people with special needs in Michigan. This new system will allow police to check if an individual has a communication disability when scanning their drivers license or license plate.

“I think it’s the best thing in the world actually. Dominic fits into that category, he does not have a state ID,” Cathy Blatnik, President of the Mid-Michigan Autism Assocation, said about her son.

So with a doctors note and a trip to the Secretary of State, those with communication difficulties can voluntarily get their name put into the private law enforcement system.

“He talks to himself to kind of sooth himself,” Blatnik said. “So if he had an interaction with a police officer, it would need to be on some kind of ID so they could say ‘okay so that’s why this young man is talking to himself, he has autism.

This would alert law enforcement on how to proceed either before they approach a person with autism or during a traffic stop as they begin to interact.

“In my career I’ve dealt with several individuals on the spectrum,” Ingham County Undersheriff Andrew Bouck said. “Often, they’re quick to tell you that I’m on the spectrum and I may be difficult to deal with because of the light, and the sound and the noise. This (new law) just gives us that initial awareness before we even talk to the individual.”

The Xavier Degroat Autism Foundation advocated for getting these bills passed and it’s personal for Degroat who is an autism advocate.

“I was pulled over by a police officer and I did not quite well understand the interacting the officer did to me,” Xavier Degroat said. “It was very intensifying that they were rushing me to roll my window down and I had no idea what an insurance card looked like so I got very anxious.”

Many people with autism have sensory overload stimulation that could create a tantrum when being approached.

Only police can access the system the information will be stored on to help protect the privacy of the people who agree to put on it.

“It’s very amazing and I’m very honored to see that these bills were passed,” Degroat said.

These laws would not create a physical change to driver’s licenses or license plates. The information is loaded in the law enforcement system and only law enforcement would have access to that information in their own systems.

Copyright 2021 WILX. All rights reserved.

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