ID Card for People with Autism Builds Understanding

Created by UM-NSU CARD, the new tool helps people with autism interact with police, EMTs, and others.

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UM News

CORAL GABLES, Fla. (July 07, 2014) — Imagine that you are an adult with autism who at times has difficulty communicating and are sensitive to both flashing lights and loud noises. You get pulled over for speeding, or another traffic infraction, by a law enforcement officer who is unaware of your disability.

Watching your reactions to the siren and flashing lights, the officer mistakenly thinks you are impaired by drugs or alcohol.

Imagine you’re a teen with autism, waiting for a friend in a public place, and you begin pacing. A lot. A store manager sees you pacing and assumes that you’re up to something and calls security. They don’t understand that pacing is just what you do when you’re bored or stressed, and they want you to leave immediately.

Now imagine both of those situations defused by a piece of paper, a simple identification card that explains the nature of the holder’s autism and how it manifests itself. The police officer turns down the lights and gives the person she pulled over more time to answer questions. The security guard explains to the store manager that there’s no mischief planned, just a teenager waiting for a friend.


That is the goal of a new ID card that is a joint venture of the University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (UM-CARD), the Coral Gables Police Department, and the Disability Independence Group (DIG).

Diane Adreon, associate director of UM-CARD, said that the ID card concept was truly a collaborative idea that grew out of the group’s work with Coral Gables Police and DIG to conduct Miranda rights training for teens with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and their parents, as well as adults with autism.

“The idea of this ID card is that the owner of the card would present it to a law enforcement officer with his or her driver’s license, in the case of a routine traffic stop, for example,” Adreon said. “It will help set the stage that the person’s communication might not be typical, they might speak slowly, or not give information in the expected order.”

“The card will explain the circumstances of the specific individual,” said Lt. Bart Barta of the Coral Gables Police Department. “It also has a bio-dot on it that will change color to show how stressed the person is and can help an individual with ASD realize how stressed he is in a given situation, and then regulate his behavior to bring that stress down. This is a win-win for everyone; it helps both sides in any given situation with law enforcement and first responders when people might be stressed.”

The project recently was awarded $5,000 in a competition called Philanthropy Miami’s 2014 Shark Tank, according to Deborah Dietz, executive director of DIG and the driving force behind entering the competition. The money will be used to create a training video related to the ID card and how to use it. Eventually the program, which is still in its infancy, hopes to create multiple videos for law enforcement and other first responders as well as for individuals with ASD and their families.

“The Shark Tank was looking for unique partnerships that would solve a problem in our community,” Dietz said. “DIG came at this from the legal perspective; once you get arrested or an encounter escalates, it’s hard to undo that. So we wanted to prevent things from escalating to the point of anyone being taken into custody or being hurt.”

So far, about three dozen of the cards have been distributed. Because DIG works across a number of disabilities, Dietz expects that the free cards, which are customized for each holder, will be offered for other conditions. It takes less than a week to get an ID card, and it can be obtained at the DIG website.

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