Norfolk County Sheriff helps families with autism seat belt covers
The Patriot Ledger - 2/13/2020
DEDHAM -- It was on a trip to Britain and Ireland that Norfolk County Sheriff Jerry McDermott first saw seat belt covers that notify first responders that the wearer has autism.
Half a world away, a light bulb went off, McDermott said that he thought that covers could be helpful at home too. Now the covers, created by McDermott's office, will be available at a number of police departments including Weymouth, Stoughton, Norwood, Needham, Millis, Holbrook, Dedham, Avon and Sharon. Families can pick the covers up at police stations and slide them on top of seat belts.
Want news like this sent straight to your inbox? Head over to PatriotLedger.com to sign up for alerts and make sure you never miss a thing. You pick the news you want, we deliver."People we talked to thought it was a good idea," McDermott said. "In the case of an emergency, if the parent is incapacitated, this helps first responders know the situation ... it's a public safety issue."
People with autism can react differently to first responders, especially in an emergency situation, said Weymouth Police Officer Jennifer Pompeo, who does community outreach for the department.
"If a first responder is at a car accident and sees this cover, they know the individual they are dealing with may not be able to respond verbally to questions, or may be hesitant to accepting help," said Pompeo, "It is valuable information that we are able to use in what could be a very stressful situation to an individual and their family. Our goal is to keep them safe and have the best experience they possibly can in their time of need."
Pompeo said the police department also coordinates with the Weymouth Fire Department and South Shore Health System Ambulance to introduce residents with autism or developmental delays to emergency vehicles.
"We want everyone to have a positive experience and have the opportunity to meet us in a non-emergency type situation," Pompeo said. "This can be helpful to all of us when we have to respond to a call that is an emergency."
The covers state: "I have Autism. I May Resist Help."
McDermott said the covers were created in consultation with a few organizations that deal with autism, like the non-profit The Arc of South Norfolk.
"It's another tool for first responders," said The Arc's Vice President Dan Sullivan. "With this they can quickly assess the situation and give more effective aid."
The Westwood based non-profit also runs a program called the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition in collaboration with the Norfolk County District Attorney's office. The program provides training to police officers, firefighters and emergency personnel on how to communicate and assist people with autism.
McDermott said he had 700 covers made in the first run and started donating them to departments this month. He said the covers cost his department about $2 each to make, but they are free to families who want them.
Reporter Joe Difazio can be reached at Jdifazio@patriotledger.com.
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