Occupant with Autism stickers help with stressful situations
Thursday, August 8, 2019 | 4:07 PM
Individuals with autism may not always react to stressful or dangerous situations the way others might, may be unable to answer questions or respond to their names being called and could be triggered by stimuli such as sirens and flashing lights.
To help families and first responders who may find themselves facing these and similar situations, Allegheny County Council Member Cindy Kirk, from District 2 including the townships of Pine and Richland, has helped start a program to provide free “Occupant with Autism” stickers to families in the county.
“It’s been a very positive response,” said Kirk, who recently spoke before the Pine board of supervisors to explain the program. “We’re just trying to make these available and trying to help. It’s something little, but sometimes the simple things can make the biggest difference in people’s lives.”
Kirk is a nurse “in real life,” as she puts it, and has experience working with children and adults with autism. After the Allegheny County Council made this past April the official Autism Awareness Month and April 2 World Autism Awareness Day in the county, she and fellow council member Pat Catena banded together to come up with the decal program. The decals are shaped like the county and can be put on the windows of homes and vehicles to alert first responders that the occupants have special needs.
“I had a man from York County email me and said, ‘I’m autistic and when I get anxious I can’t talk,’” she said. “He told me of an instance where he was stopped by the police and his behavior was misinterpreted because they didn’t know. He said he wanted a decal that he could point to if he was pulled over while driving.”
She also spoke to a volunteer fireman in Marshall Township who spoke of an incident in which they responded to a situation and their first inclination was to think the person involved was intoxicated because of the behavior being exhibited. That wasn’t the case, and the quicker the proper information can be conveyed the faster responders can administer the appropriate care, Kirk said.
Organizations such as Autism Speaks have offered similar stickers for some time, but Western Pennsylvania chapter executive director Amy Logston said the more ways to share awareness and make the resource available to those who need it the better.
“Just having first responders understand that they’re dealing with someone on the spectrum, whether it’s a child or adult, and they have to stay calm and they have to understand how that person may react to loud noises or a touch,” she said. “I think it’s great what (Kirk) is doing. Some families may say, ‘It’s not for us,’ but everyone’s different and it’s just another great resource for our Western Pennsylvania families that need it. We have the stickers as well, so if anyone can’t get one through the county they can reach out to us and we’d be happy to provide them.”
The stickers are currently available at both the Pine Municipal Building on Pearce Mill Road and at the Pine Community Center, or individuals can email Kirk directly with a request at [email protected]