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Pittsburgh autism advocate says more needs to be considered with new Pennsylvania State Police cards

Pennsylvania State Police unveil informational cards for people with autism
Pennsylvania State Police unveil informational cards for people with autism 02:36

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Pennsylvania State Police just kicked off a new initiative that will help officers navigate interactions with people with autism. It's a colorful card hoping to improve autism awareness.

KDKA-TV's Meghan Schiller asked autism advocates and state police to weigh in on the idea.

When the view in the rearview mirror shows flashing lights, it's a moment often filled with high stress and anxiety. Mother and autism advocate Jamie Upshaw knows what her 13-year-old son would do.

"An individual most of the time is in fight or flight. My baby's going to run," said Upshaw, the executive director of Autism Urban Connections. "Not because he did something wrong, because he's scared."

Many people with autism are fearful that police could not understand or misinterpret what they say or how they behave.

Lt. Adam Reed said with Pennsylvania State Police said a new card should give an officer pause.

"An individual with autism may present to law enforcement as perhaps something that the trooper or officer may mistake as being disobedient, or willingly not listening to the instructions that the officer is giving them, so we hope that this card really breaks down that barrier," Reed said.

A bright, colorful card that simply reads, "I have autism. My name is blank." It also includes some reminders for law enforcement.

"Some of those include loud noises may bother me. Use a calm and direct voice. Please keep verbal commands simple or I may not respond to verbal commands," said Lt. Reed.

Upshaw thinks this card could work for some, but tells KDKA-TV her Black son, autistic or not, will not be reaching for anything.

"You know, it can be a great idea. However, I just think more thought needs to go into what we are asking of people to additionally have to do when put in a stressful situation already," said Upshaw.

At this time, anyone can simply print one of the cards on Pennsylvania State Police's website and put it in their wallet or vehicle.

"When presented with the card, how are state troopers trained to behave differently, if at all, and interact with the person that presented it?" KDKA-TV's Meghan Schiller asked.

"If one of our troopers is presented with this card, it's really going to tell them, 'hey, we'll slow things down, take a step back and follow some of the tips on this card to best open up that dialogue with individuals,'" Reed said. 

Not just state troopers will recognize the card. Troopers are working to spread the word to all law enforcement across the state. Again, it's not required but available for people.

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