One in 45 New Jersey children have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, that’s the highest rate in the nation according to the Centers for Disease Control. The behaviors associated with the disorder can be mistaken for belligerence or drug and alcohol abuse. New Jersey law enforcement officers and first responders are being trained to recognize autistic behaviors. And a member of the state assembly has introduced a bill that would allow those with developmental disabilities to carry an ID card. Assemblyman Sean Kean told NJTV News Anchor Mary Alice Williams the key demographic eligible for the ID cards will include autistic people and people with developmental disabilities.
“Well, obviously we know New Jersey has a high incidence of autism. It’s one of the leading centers for this really tragic element nationally,” said Kean. “We have a big concentration in the north east but we also have a large concentration right here in the state. The bill that I’ve sponsored which would give autistic people, as well as people that are developmentally disabled and have other mental issues, they would have the option of getting a identification card through the Department of Health and Human Services at the state level. Carry that card on their persons and then god forbid an issue ever occurred where they had to interact with a police officer or somebody else maybe an emergency management technician, somebody that’s in a position of authority. We know that some of the developmentally disabled people and some of the autistic community have very difficult time communicating. We’re also in a period now where law enforcement is on heightened alert for people trying to do harm to people in the law enforcement community. Sometimes the reaction of autistic and developmentally disabled people can be misperceived by law enforcement agencies and EMTs as to what really is going on there. This card will hopefully give more information to those authorities.”
On what information would be featured on the card, Kean said that the card would be discretionary. He also said that it would be optional for the individual and their families whether they would get the card and carry it with them. According to Kean, the card would identify an individual by picture and contain some information, such as health condition. He said that it would feature a little bit of extra information to assist first responders.
Kean said that the ID cards would not make anyone exploitable as it would not be something that would require an individual to carry around their neck. He said that he has heard about some situations where members of the community mistreat autistic people or people with disabilities.
“These individuals would benefit by having this communication device on their person and it’s, once again, it’s optional. This is not something where the state is mandating the families. Note these people have a disability, so I think it’s perfect, it’s discretionary and I think it’s something that will help,” he said.
When asked about how common it is that police officers improperly assess a situation, Kean said he is not sure how many times it has occurred but he said he knows some situations have been improperly assessed by talking with law enforcement.
Kean said that as part of the bill he has proposed first responders, EMTs and law enforcement would be trained on how to deal with complex situations.
“That’s part of the bill and that’s a good point for EMTs and first responders and law enforcement there would be an education component so that law enforcement is trained in seeing some of the signs that would indicate the individual. Maybe is not creating a non-communicative situation on purpose but rather it’s their physical health that prevents them from doing that,” Kean said.