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Nonprofit Works With Elk Grove Police On Autism Awareness

ELK GROVE (CBS13) — A local nonprofit is hitting the field with Elk Grove Police Department to bring awareness to autism disorders. It's the first program of its kind in the area.

"The biggest challenge, believe it or not, is getting society to accept these children," said Tameka Burrell, a mother of four.

The Fly Brave Foundation works to find outlets for children on the autism spectrum. Inspired by her autistic son John, Vanessa Bieker created FlyFit, an opportunity for children with spectrum disorders to exercise while getting to know the police officers in their community.

"With autism, it's an invisible disability," she said. "So if he was melting down or becoming sensory and becoming aggressive and very loud, you may perceive him in a different light than being autistic."

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Everyone seemed to benefit from the hour-long series of activities. The kids found a new level of comfort with police, the police explorers gained early exposure to people with disabilities, and the officers learned more about recognizing the signs of autism.

"Some of the behaviors do mimic, sometimes, people that are under the influence of narcotics," said Jason Jimenez, a spokesperson for Elk Grove Police Department.

Devin Burrell, 11, was just diagnosed last year. His mother, Tameka, is desperate for the world to give him a chance.

"It is not the responsibility of these children to try and fit into society," she said, with tears in her eyes. "Society needs to welcome them more."

But tonight, she found the open arms she'd been looking for.

"This is my child, and I love him, and I will walk to the end of the earth for him, and any child that has special needs deserves that," Burrell said.

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The program continues every Wednesday and Saturday for the next five weeks. And if this is a success, Fly Brave hopes to expand the training opportunity to police departments all over the Sacramento area.

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