Monday, December 4, 2023

Autism Awareness: Here’s how James City County Police handle residents with autism

(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)
(WYDaily file/Courtesy of Unsplash)

Police officers in Salt Lake City, Utah shot an autistic boy after they received a call about the child threatening people with a weapon, according to the Associated Press.

The 13-year-old is in serious condition with injuries to his shoulder, ankles, intestines and bladder.

So how can law enforcement deal with people who are autistic without resorting to violence?

On Sept. 19, 2018, the James City County Police Department started the Autism Awareness project, which trains officers how to communicate with people who have autism and provides free window stickers for vehicles and homes stating “Occupant with autism may not respond to verbal commands,” Master Police Officer Ben Woodhouse of the department’s Community Services Unit said in a prepared statement.

Every police officer is trained to recognize the sticker or magnet and how communicate with people who have autism, he added.

“Autism awareness stickers and magnets are available to County residents who live with or care for an individual with Autism,” according to the police department’s community outreach page. “The purpose of these is to alert public safety personnel that they may need to communicate differently with someone in the residence or vehicle during an emergency situation.”

The idea for the window stickers came from a mother of an autistic teen in the police department’s Project Lifesaver Program, which helps residents who have dementia, Alzheimer’s and autism.

“She indicated that during an emergency her son who is 19 years old would most likely not be able to respond to verbal commands and may try to flee in the confusion of what is happening,” Woodhouse wrote in an email. “She stated that she was concerned that if she became incapacitated for any reason, police officers and firefighters attempting to help/communicate with her son would not be aware of his condition and may inadvertently cause the condition to become worse.”

(WYDaily/Courtesy of the James City County Police Community Outreach page)
(WYDaily/Courtesy of the James City County Police Community Outreach page)

“The mother then advised that she had seen a police department in South Fayette Township, PA offered window clings to its citizens free of charge,” he added.

Woodhouse found in his research that 3.5 million Americans live with autism and is the fastest growing developmental disability, according to the Autism Society.

“Some people may think that this is a relatively small number of people,” he wrote. “However, the prevalence of autism in U.S. children has increased by 119.4 percent from the year 2000 (1 in 150) to the year 2010 (1 in 68).”

Woodhouse proposed the program to the police department leadership and it was approved.

So how effective is the program?

Woodhouse said family members have told him the program is “very effective” with one resident saying the sticker was “vital in providing the responding officers crucial information.”

He added officers have said they have noticed stickers “on the way up to the doors of homes” and it gives them a “heads up as to what may be going on.”

“This program has allowed officers to connect even closer with the community that they serve,” he wrote. “Members of the community have provided a ton of feedback showing support for this program.”

As for future plans, the department ordered more stickers and magnets.

“We have also had other police departments from across the state contact us about this program,” Woodhouse wrote. “One of the best parts is we have seen this awareness program being used by other departments.”

How can people get involved?

“By getting the word out,” Woodhouse said. “We offer this program free of charge to the citizens of James City County. If you live in another community ask your police department if they offer this program or see if you can help them start one.”

For more information about the program or to get a sticker, contact Woodhouse at or 757-259-5150.


Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano
Julia Marsigliano is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She covers everything on the Peninsula from local government and law enforcement agencies to family-run businesses and weather updates. Before WYDaily, she covered Hampton and Newport News for WYDaily’s sister publication, HNNDaily before both publications merged in December 2018. Julia was born in Tokyo, Japan and moved to Long Island, New York in 2001. A true New Yorker, she loves pizza, bagels and good Chinese food. Send comments, tips and other tidbits to You can follow her on Twitter at @jmarsigliano

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