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Top Ten Tips for Disability Safety in Virginia 

Individuals with an autism spectrum disorder or other cognitive disabilities may find themselves interacting with first responders, such as the police/security personnel, EMT's, and fire fighters. Contact with first responders can be very stressful, and even more so in an emergency if they are not prepared.

Training for first responders has been a topic we have been addressing long before the current events began demanding change. Many first responders have had little to no training to recognize the signs, symptoms and special needs of these individuals.

ASNV has always been proactive in the education of not only first responders, but also parents so that all can prepare for emergencies that might cause unnecessary stress, injury or even the death of a loved one. 

These top ten things can help you to reduce the likelihood or impact of unnecessary stress in an emergency.


Get your neighbors and community. Be proactive. Have a
"get-to-know-my-kid" barbecue or party with your neighbors, so

they know you are approachable. This gives them and your child the

opportunity to learn names and faces. Give them your phone number,

so they can call you before calling 911, if they have a potential concern.

Show them your child’s identification information bracelet, necklace, or

info cards. Give them or display autism awareness and notification safety

items(sources at end of article). Inform neighborhood watch programs.
Visit your local police and fire departments.


2. Reach out to 911 Dispatch

                                                                           Provide information sheets to your local 911 dispatch center and

                                                                           police stations. Pre-notification programs can be found on all county


                                                                           Information should include:- Current photograph and physical

                                                                           description including height, weight, eye and hair color, any scars

                                                                           or other ID marks. Update this yearly.

                                                                           - Sensory, medical, or dietary issues, if any.

                                                                           - Inclination for elopement and any atypical behaviors or                                                                                                                      characteristics that may attract attention.

                                                                           - Possible compulsive activity.

                                                                           - Favorite attractions and locations.

                                                                             where person may be found.

                                                                           - Likes and dislikes.

                                                                           - Approach and de-escalation techniques.

                                                                           - Best method of communication.

                                                                           - Non verbal? - iPad, sign language, or picture boards.

                                                                           - Identification wear- bracelet, necklace, info cards, or in their clothes.

                                                                           - Map and address guide to nearby properties with water sources                                                                                                      and dangerous locations highlighted.

                                                                           - Blueprint or drawing of home, with bedroom of individual                                                                                                               highlighted.


3.  Complete a missing child packet through your local police or sheriff’s department before there is an issue. These packets could include a data report, photo, fingerprints, and possibly DNA swab for you to take home.  If your loved one elopes or tends to run off, enroll them the Project Lifesaver program with your local police or sheriff’s department. It uses on proven radio technology and a specially-trained search and rescue team. They will wear a personalized wristband that always emits a radio tracking signal. When caregivers notify the local Project Lifesaver agency that the person is missing, a search and rescue team responds to the wanderer's area and starts searching with the mobile locater tracking system. More information can be found at Search times have been reduced from hours and days to minutes. Since April1999, they have nationally had a 99.99% success rate for over 3,750 individuals with an average location time of less than 30 minutes.


4.  A 911 flag with key dispatch data

Alert first responders that your home is a “location of interest”. Information sheets must include full
name, address, phone numbers and emergency contact persons. In Fairfax County, this can be done online at their pre-notification 9-1-1 program at

For other counties, the recommended 9-1-1 flag sheet handout format can be found at

5. Tracking Devices

If Project Lifesaver is not available or preferred, a number of GPS tracking and locator systems are also
available (sources at end of article). Of note, information on a FREE Safelink Wireless cell phone with very limited service is at

Put “In Case of Emergency” (ICE) emergency contact information into your child’s cell phone, iPad, and tablet. More info is at or

6. Water Safety

Since drowning is the leading cause of death for individuals

with autism, teach your child to swim or at least float. Adapted

swim programs in your area may be able to help.

7. Handicapped Placard From the DMV 

If your child elopes or tends to run off in parking lots, apply for a

blue “handicapped” hanging parking placard. The disabilities application from the Virginia DMV is at If appropriate, get a “Walker” or “Non-Driving”identification cardsfrom Virginia DMV at

Even if they do not drive, they should have a "Real ID". If you get a driver’s license or ID card from the Virginia DMV, you can ask that an identification code for “Autism” or an “Intellectual Disability” be added to the license or ID card to specifically identify the individual as having that disability.

8. Social Safety.

It is highly recommend that you check your zip code on the local sex offender registry. The Virginia State Police Sex Offender and Crimes Against Minors Registry is at

9. Safety at School.


                                                                                Invite your school resource or safety officer to an IEP meeting.

                                                                                Like other topics here, it is very important to set up for success.                                                                                                      Involve the safety resource officer when your student is not in                                                                                                          crisis. This school employee should be a safe person your child                                                                                                      can go to for help  and possibly intervene before escalation.

                                                                                This is particularly true if your child has a Behavior

                                                                                Intervention Plan (BIP) or if you have provided

                                                                                specific restriction instructions about restraint and seclusion.

10. Local Community Services Board

Do your research and have plans in place before behaviors in the home, or medication issues become a problem, contact your local county Community Services Board to see what they have available for an emergency with your loved one. They are a wealth of knowledge when it comes to local behavioral and mental health assistance. They may have a better plan and capability to help with an intellectual and/or developmental disability. Your situation might need less than a 911 police intervention.

Some local agencies are below:


Virginia’s Regional Educational Assessment                           Easterseals Mission is to enrich lives and expand            Crisis Response and Habitation (REACH)                              opportunities for all children and adults in our                  Program provides emergency family crisis                             communities, including people with disabilities and        services and behavioral assistance for                                   military backgrounds.

Crisis Response and Habilitation (REACH)

Program provides emergency family crisis

services and behavioral assistance for

individuals of any age in Northern Virginia                              Fairfax County Mobile Crisis Unit can be reached

                                                                                                 at 703-573-5679 from 8am to midnight.


If an arrest occurs, use the Arc’s “Developing Positive Interactions for People with Developmental Disabilities and First Responders, Police, and the Justice System: A Guide for People with Developmental Disabilities and their Loved Ones. "When individuals with Developmental Disabilities become involved in the criminal justice system". "A guide for Attorneys" They also have a three-minute “The Justice System for People with DD” webinar video


More disability and safety resources are at the Autism Spectrum Disorders and Public Safety Considerations
References and Websites from the Autism Society of Northern Virginia at, or from
“Section A: Recommended autism safety references web sites for families” - information articles on many safety
“Section B: Recommended autism safety web sites for families in Virginia” - information specifically for families in
“Section C: Recommended web sites for autism awareness and safety items for families” - assortment of
companies and organizations selling autism awareness bracelets, necklaces, lanyards, shoe tags, stickers,
magnets, decals, labels, seat belt harnesses, ID cards, forms & cards, USB devices, clothing, signs, tags, pins,
and bumper stickers.
“Section D: Recommended web sites for tracking and locator systems for families” - wide variety of tracking and
locator system options are available using GPS devices in cell phones, jackets, shoes, and others.

If you have any questions at all about any safety issues, please CALL Scott
Campbell at 703 969-6730 anytime. He really does mean ANY TIME!

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