JOHNSTON, RI – To kickoff World Autism Acceptance Month, U.S. Senator Jack Reed is partnering with The Autism Project (TAP) to screen a new educational video in partnership with local police and fire departments. This initiative will provide first responders with the training and techniques they need to effectively communicate with people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during an emergency.

Senator Reed today joined TAP, the Public Safety Special Needs Coalition (PSSNC), first responders, state and local officials, and community members to watch the new educational video: Emergencies from an Autistic POV: Sensory Overload + Elopement.

Elopement refers to a common occurrence for children with ASD, who may wander away from caregivers or secure locations. According to the National Institutes for Health (NIH), elopement occurs in approximately 49% of individuals diagnosed with ASD. Additionally, accidental harm and injury is a serious risk during elopement incidents as drowning accounts for about 46% of all injury deaths among children with autism and close calls with traffic were reported in 65% of all elopement cases. Elopement can be a traumatic experience for a person with autism and their caregivers. It is imperative for first responders to be aware of how best to assist an individual with autism in these situations. 

“The Autism Project is doing critical work to improve the lives of individuals with ASD and provide vital support to families and caregivers all throughout our state,” said Senator Reed.  “Elopement can be a frantic, harrowing experience for children with autism or a family member with special needs.  This initiative by TAP with their partners in local fire and police departments and network of community organizations, will help save lives.  It will help prevent elopement incidents from becoming tragedies and will give law enforcement and caregivers the tools, information, and resources to help first responders effectively local at-risk individuals and safely reunite them with their loved ones.”

“We appreciate Senator Reed’s ongoing support of our work to keep autistic people safe within their communities. Building knowledge and positive relationships is a win for everyone,” said Joanne Quinn, Executive Director of The Autism Project.

According to TAP, about 22,000 Rhode Islanders have autism.  The new video is designed to help viewers become better educated about autism and contribute toward a safer community for all. It adds to a series of public safety videos and in-person trainings and events that TAP has organized across Rhode Island.

In addition to TAP’s efforts to increase awareness, the Rhode Island Department of Health maintains a Special Needs Emergency Registry (RISNER) to help caregivers and family members let local police, fire, and other first responders in their communities better prepare for and respond to their needs during a natural disaster or other emergency.

TAP’s public safety series, or Roll Call Videos, was made possible in part by a $100,000 federal grant under Kevin and Avonte’s law to help reduce wandering and elopement incidents among individuals with autism and/or developmental and cognitive disabilities.  Today’s video is the next step to increase knowledge to prevent elopement and is also funded through a second Kevin and Avonte Grant.

Senator Reed helped pass Kevin and Avonte’s Law in the 114th Congress. This law is named in honor of two boys with autism – 9 year-old Kevin Curtis Wills of Iowa and 14-year old Avonte Oquendo of New York – who perished after wandering away from supervised settings.

In 2022, Reed voted to reauthorize Kevin and Avonte’s Law for another five years as part of the fiscal year 2023 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). The law has helped direct over $10 million to communities across the nation and includes an alert program to help notify communities about missing individuals with Alzheimer’s Disease, autism, and other developmental disabilities. It also enables the Department of Justice (DOJ) to award grants for state and local education and training programs to help prevent elopement and reunite caregivers with missing family members.