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Voluntary decals to alert B.C. first responders to presence of people who are neurodivergent

Families across the province will soon have access to a new set of stickers for their vehicles or homes, alerting first responders to the presence of a loved one with autism or another type of neurodivergence.

The BC Association of Chiefs of Police will make the voluntary decals available for pickup at police stations next year. The intent of the new resource is to alert first responders attending a scene so they can adjust their response appropriately, association president Fiona Wilson told Global News.

“That would just let the officer know that they should rely on their training and make sure that they’re communicating in a way that resonates with an individual who is autistic or neurodiverse,” the Vancouver police deputy chief constable explained.

“Just like any situation, the more information and background that our responding members have with respect to a person, the better they’re able to tailor their response.”

The initiative resonates well with Surrey’s Brenda Webster, whose 26-year-old son Jake is neurodivergent. She describes him as “very industrious” but also “quite anxious,” relying on a regular routine.

“Parents know, there’s a very deep concern that things can go sideways very quickly,” she explained. “So if (first responders) come to my house, I’ve got the sticker on my window, on my front door, they know, and they can react more effectively with Jake.

“I think ultimately everybody wants to be understood, and so communication can happen in the form of speaking, actions, behaviours — I think the better trained the people are that work with neurodivergent people, the better the outcomes.”

Webster said Jake has “high regard” for first responders, but was previously intimidated by the uniforms and flashing lights. Webster had explained that the first responders are likely some of his friends’ parents, and they don’t always appear in uniform.

He has already expressed interest in having one of the decals in card form to put in his wallet.

“I just thought that was so brilliant that he thought of that — he had the forethought to think that it just doesn’t have to be a sticker,” Webster said proudly. “So I will make sure I do that, that I cut out a little wallet-sized card out of the sticker…. He knows that it will be important and if he ever needs to use it, it will be an effective way to communicate if he can’t.”

Wendy Lisogar-Cocchia of the Pacific Autism Family Network also said she sees value in the decals, calling it a “win-win” resource for both police and the neurodiverse population.

“They could be non-verbal, they could not understand the question for example, and they’re deemed as being defiant,” she said.

Wilson said the new initiative was born of efforts to equip police with more training and resources for interacting with people who are neurodivergent. She acknowledged there have been “instances” when that has not gone well in the past.

In January, Metro Vancouver Transit Police handcuffed a 12-year-old boy with autism at the Commercial-Broadway SkyTrain station. Police said the boy was seen allegedly assaulting a woman — his mother — and brought to the BC Children’s Hospital under the Mental Health Act, where he was handcuffed again with his face pressed against the ground.

His mother filmed the interaction at the hospital while calling for his release. In an interview with Global News, she explained that her son had become upset about an earlier incident and tried to run off. She called for better de-escalation training for police.

The new decals are still in their draft form, but Wilson said the design is being finalized and should be available in January.

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