police officer looks at wallet card of young man

There’s no time more stressful and dangerous than the moment a person with a cognitive or social disability, like autism, meets a police officer. The Wallet Card is a tool to help a person with autism communicate clearly with law enforcement or first responders and safely disclose their disability so the officer knows how to communicate with the card holder.

The Wallet Card is the first product of the CLARITY Campaign and is a collaboration between Disability Independence Group, The Coral Gables Police Department and The University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. The CLARITY Campaign started with independent teenagers and adults who have autism spectrum disorder. It promotes heightened communication between law enforcement and persons with disabilities. As the project grows, The Wallet Card will include other disabilities.

police officer looks at wallet card of young man

This unique campaign brings together three different perspectives: professional law enforcement experience through the Coral Gables Police Department to address real-life interactions, legal expertise through Disability Independence Group to ensure that the rights of persons with autism spectrum disorders are preserved through identification and education, and experience in outreach and support to the community of persons with autism and related disabilities through University of Miami-Nova Southeastern University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities. These perspectives ensure that the card will be effective for both the person with a disability and for law enforcement.

The Wallet Card is different from other cards because it is personalized by Disability Independence Group, Inc. It includes an emergency contact name, phone number and specific traits of the card owner’s disability but is not a substitute for a valid state ID.

The CLARITY campaign has two parts. Watch a video (below) that shows teenagers and adults how to safely interact with law enforcement and first responders and then order a free Wallet Card through Disability Independence Group.

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In the summer of 2009, my daughter, Julia, who has Asperger syndrome, was 5 years old. A neighbor and I had taken our kids to the zoo. It was pretty busy that day. At one point I realized we didn’t have Julia.

She’d gone to the bathroom with some from the group but had not come back with them. There were a lot of summer school groups there that day. We were in the Africa exhibit, an extremely large area of the zoo. Our group split up and started looking for Julia. When I asked strangers if they’d seen my little girl they said no and then joined us in looking for her. Zoo personnel were on their walkie-talkies.

It seemed like hours, but it was probably 20-30 minutes later that a zoo employee told me someone had found her. We rushed to that area. A mom had found Julia, who was obviously lost, and had taken her hand and kept Julia with her as she sought out a zoo employee to report having found a missing child.

I was and am so grateful to all the many strangers who were concerned and joined us in looking for my daughter. I’m also extremely grateful to that mom who took Julia under her wing while she searched for us. That day, in the midst of my being overwhelmed, I heard complete strangers calling my daughter’s name. There were so many helpers.


The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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IMG_3742 I dropped my daughter off a little late to school today. Her aide, Lisa, met us at the main office and Erin immediately enveloped her in one of her signature bear hugs. Lisa hugged her back and told her their class was in the library, knowing that would make Erin smile. It did. As I watched them walk away hand-in-hand down the hallway I paused to take a picture. It was a moment I wanted to keep and carry around with me all day.

Driving home I thought of a story a friend recently shared. When her daughters were younger and they were upset about something bad that had happened in the city where they live or some place they heard of in the news, she would borrow a lesson from Fred Rogers and remind them that though frightening things happen it’s important to “look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

As a parent of a special needs child, the unexpected and the scary has happened, and I am always on the lookout for the helpers. I cannot get Erin, who has a form of autism, through her days without them. I need someone to walk her down the hallway and to her classroom safely, and when that someone takes the time to hold her hand and make her smile, my gratitude knows no bounds. This leave taking – the act of entrusting your child to the care of another is a rite of passage for all parents, but for those with children who cannot communicate the details of their days, it is a leap of unimaginable faith.

The Mighty recently asked readers to describe in one word what it’s like to be the parent of a special needs child. My word is “appreciative.” You appreciate the smallest things your child says or does – but you also appreciate beyond measure the people who come into your life to help. Over the course of Erin’s 13 years I’ve relied on a wide safety net of family, friends, doctors, specialists, teachers, aides as well as a long trail of anonymous men and women whose smile or passing kindness have softened the edges of our often rough and sometimes scary days.

A few years ago when Erin was 7, I lost her on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. My sister and I were shopping for her newborn and each thought the other had Erin. When we realized this was not the case, my heart stopped as I anticipated the sound of a car crash, had she wandered on to the street outside. As employees blocked the exits and conducted a frantic search, a woman in her mid-sixties suddenly appeared, asking if anyone had lost a little girl. She and three friends who were visiting the city had found Erin hesitating at the top of an escalator in a store next door. Erin, who remains fascinated by the movement of escalators but has trouble timing her step to board, was clutching a bright green t-shirt with a picture of Curious George. A tag from Gap Kids dangled from one of the sleeves. Finding Erin safely encircled by this group of women, I think I said thank you, though I may have said nothing at all.  They seemed to think nothing of it – good timing, glad they could help, happy to move along their way.

It took me weeks to recover.

I still get weak thinking about it – both the feeling of losing her – and the appreciation I felt for these complete strangers – these helpers who found her and took the time to find me.

They are everywhere.

Sometimes we know their names. And sometimes they float in and out of your day, your life so briefly, you barely get a chance to acknowledge them, let alone to stop and take a picture.

In either case their imprint and my gratitude will always be there.

For all of February, The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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My son, Lucas, has autism, and his sensory issues and unwillingness to change his routines have made him a picky eater. If he likes a certain food, he doesn’t mind eating it every day. As a mom, though, I like for him to discover new things so he can have a balanced diet and also because being able to eat different things makes his life a whole lot easier. So every time he accepts something new, I cheer inside.

He’s often attracted to distinct tastes and odd combinations, so it’s not always easy to figure out what he might like. When he was around 9 years old, he insisted on an unusual breakfast every day. It consisted of brown gravy, which had to be prepared in a special way and be a certain temperature, and a bowl of Coco Pops on the side, served dry, which he washed down with a glass of orange juice. Hot salty gravy, dry, sweet chocolate cereal, and cold, tangy orange juice – a peculiar breakfast but one he liked, and I was happy he’d found something to please his palate.

The rest of us in the family usually have bread for breakfast, and every so often I’d offer Lucas different kinds to try. Suspiciously, he’d smell it at first, sometimes refuse it and at other times take a small bite. Occasionally, he’d swallow it with a look of discomfort on his face or simply spit it out. But then, one Christmas, he tried Swedish Christmas bread, Vörtbröd, which is a spiced bread made with rye and beer and sweetened with raisins. I know it sounds strange, but it actually tastes good. Lucas sniffed at it with a curious look on his face, and then he put it in his mouth, chewed it and swallowed it with a smile. Immediately, he asked for more. Bingo!

Xmas Voertbread

I was happy I could add another item to his menu. Since it was a seasonal bread and in the stores only around Christmas time, I stocked up my freezer. Lucas didn’t change his breakfast routine, but he did gladly add a slice of Vörtbröd to the menu. A few months after Christmas, my supply of Vörtbröd was all gone. I tried to entice him with other breads but to no avail.

When I was shopping for bread one time, I told the young baker how much my son with autism had loved his Christmas bread and that it was the only bread he’d ever eaten. I asked him if I could possibly have the recipe. He lit up and was delighted that my son loved his bread, and then he said:

Lucas “You probably have your hands full already. Why don’t I bake a large batch and keep it here in my freezer? Then you can come by and shop whenever you want.”

I was totally amazed at his helpful offer. What a thoughtful young baker! He went on to tell me that his mother had worked with autistic kids, and he knew what challenges it could pose.

This kindhearted baker baked Christmas bread for Lucas for a whole year, and after that Lucas started eating several other kinds of the baker’s lovely bread.

Once in a while, you meet people with a big heart who go out of their way to help others. This young man touched our lives, and I hope, by this story, he touches yours as well.

The Mighty is asking its readers the following: Describe the moment a stranger — or someone you don’t know very well — showed you or a loved one incredible love. No gesture is too small! If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

It was Sunday in our new town, Terre Haute, Indiana. We had just recently moved two hours away from my family who helped me all the time, so my boys could receive applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy. Before we moved, I went to church every Sunday. The only problem with taking my boys to church is that I need help. I can’t manage my two sons alone — in our old town my parents helped me every Sunday.

Both my boys have autism. My oldest son, Trenton, is nonverbal, is a wanderer and requires 24/7 care. My youngest son, Andrew, has mild autism. Taking my sons anywhere requires at least two to three adults at all times.

My parents came for a weekend visit right after we moved. We all went to what would be our new church that Sunday. That day, we met a nice woman named Linda. I explained to her that my boys have autism and that I just moved to the area. We had an enjoyable conversation.

A few weeks later, I attempted church by myself. I didn’t have anyone to help me, but I didn’t want to miss mass. I was nervous and scared, but I had faith we could do it.

DSC_0918 (2)

We made our entrance into church after Andrew, who hardly ever runs away, got away from me while I was getting Trenton out of the van. He ran across the parking lot, without looking for cars, with an oncoming van not too far away. We walked into the church right on time. Once we took our place in the last pew, Trenton immediately went into sensory overload. He bolted from our seat before I knew what was happening and ran all the way to the front of a long, big church. He stood up on the stage, pacing, making anxious movement with his hands and loud noises with his mouth. I took off running after him, leaving Andrew all by himself. Once I got a hold of Trenton, I just smiled at the whole church and forced Trenton back to our seat.

Linda came to my rescue.

She said she would help me during church. It was a gift to have such a kind lady, who doesn’t even know me, offer her help. I felt instant relief come over me.

About two minutes after Linda sat by me, Trenton couldn’t manage his sensory overload anymore. He started screaming and putting his hands over his ears. Then he took his Play-Doh and threw it all over the church. There was no calming him. I grabbed him, but he started hitting and kicking me. I tried to put him on my lap, but his screams were blood curdling at this point. His feet were kicking the pew in front of us, his arms were swinging from side to side and hitting my face.

He pulled my nice, neat ponytail and accidentally kicked Andrew in the face. Andrew started crying and tried to climb up on my lap while I was still holding out-of-control Trenton. I looked at the kind lady who was trying to help me, and her face told me that she had never seen a sight like she was witnessing at that moment. I told her I needed to leave, and she quickly agreed that was probably a good thing. Once Andrew finished crying from being kicked in the face, he started crying because he didn’t want to leave church. Linda helped us exit. Thank goodness!

Once we got the boys strapped in and I thanked Linda for helping us, I sat in the van and sobbed like a baby. I sat there for a good five minutes and just cried.

Even though my church experience was a disaster, I’m not sure how it all would have played out without Linda’s help. She knows little about autism, but she was there to help me and simply give me moral support when I needed it.

This post originally appeared on Two Bothers, One Journey

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My nephew, Karson, is just 9 months older than my son, Brandon. When they were both babies, this was a huge age difference. When Brandon was just born, Karson was already crawling around. When Brandon was just a few months old, Karson was walking and saying a few words. Karson was always way ahead of Brandon, but that was to be expected. There’s a a major difference between, say, a 6-month-old and 15-month-old.

When Brandon started showing signs of autism, his delay became more and more evident. Now, Brandon is nearly 3 and a half, and Karson is 4 and a couple months. Karson is a wonderful cousin. He’s a beautiful child, inside and out. He shows an enormous amount of patience with Brandon, who has trouble socially engaging with his peers. Karson tries so hard to play with Brandon, many times only to be ignored. He’s learned to play with Brandon in a way that Brandon likes. He’s done this for more than a year and continues to accommodate Brandon when they play. I wish I could say this is due to my stellar parenting and encouragement from our entire family. While this of course helps, there are certain things that just cannot be taught. There is a level of compassion and acceptance that can only be reached if it’s a part of your core.


I wish this picture captured the enormous smile Karson had on his face when he looked at me and said, “Look, Brandon has his arm on me!” He was absolutely beaming. Karson fully understands what an significant show of affection it is for Brandon to not only put is arm around Karson, but to keep it there. This is how Brandon says, “I love you, Karson.”

I’ll never forget the day we were at my parent’s lake house on a family vacation last summer. I turned around and saw Brandon sitting on the top back of a chair. I darted over because it should have toppled right over, taking Brandon down with it. It happened so fast that I didn’t have time to ponder why the chair hadn’t fallen. When I got there, Karson was sitting in the chair next to Brandon. He was casually eating his breakfast with one hand and holding Brandon’s chair down with the other hand. The awareness Karson had in that moment, for someone other than himself, still amazes me when I think about it. He was only 3 years old then. He instinctively protected Brandon, yet he didn’t feel the need to tell anyone about it. He didn’t try to get attention for it or complain that he could only eat with one hand or yell at Brandon to get down.  He just helped him.

Karson doesn’t understand the concept of autism, but he knows Brandon is different. He understands Brandon is special, and he embraces this.

If you want to know how to treat a child with autism, look to my nephew. He will show you. At 3 years old, this kid accomplished what many adults fail to do.


This post originally appeared on Ramblings of a Special Mom.

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