This new tool is helping people with autism in stressful encounters with law enforcement in Suffolk County

This new tool is helping people with autism in stressful encounters with law enforcement in Suffolk County WEST BABYLON, N.Y. — Suffolk County law enforcement officers are now equipped with a tool to help people on the autism spectrum during potentially stressful encounters. It was designed by a young man from Long Island, who is on the spectrum himself. Christopher Cortale, a receptionist at the Winters Center for Autism in West Babylon, helped design an emergency card to foster communication in stressful situations. “Please be patient. I have autism” cards for law enforcement At the top, the card reads, “Please be patient. I have autism. Please point to the pictures to help me understand what you want.” Underneath are photos of a driver’s license, registration, insurance and weapons. The card also includes photos and captions violations for officers to indicate if the individual with autism is being warned, ticketed or arrested, and reasons, such as license plate, tail light, speed limit, stop sign or several others. The bottom of the card has a section titled “I need help” with photos indicating low fuel, flat tire, hospital, emergency contact, tow truck and lost. Suffolk County law enforcement embracing autism tool Cortale’s creative instincts were embraced by the Suffolk County sheriff. “This card is an emotional tool,” Sheriff Errol Toulon Jr. said. “The deputy walks up, doesn’t understand why this person is nervous.” Toulon’s deputies will now carry the newly created cards with visual aids and tips, pointing to reason for a pullover, and if the individual is on the spectrum, they can ask for help non-verbally. “I do get anxious. I do get a little bit nervous,” Cortale said. The cards are distributed to law enforcement across the county and are being endorsed by advocates for inclusion on buses, rail and subway. “I would actually hold this [card] on public transportation,” Cortale said, explaining that it alleviates his nerves. “In Suffolk County, they now have this tool that can really change their experience and give them something to communicate with strangers,” said Christine Ponzio, executive director of the Winters Center for Autism. Those on the spectrum say they don’t want extra compassion. “Because we are just like everyone else,” Cortale said. But it can help them in a public setting. “Definitely gives me a sense of confidence, a sense of hope,” Cortale said. He added, “We have a lot of people on the autism spectrum. I would say, just give us a chance.” Cortale was given that chance, and now, he’s helping others like him all over the county. April is Autism Acceptance Month, and the Winters Center for Autism is hosting daily job training and placement. It is estimated 350,000 adults in New York state live with autism spectrum disorder.

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