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ICYMI: Police departments take action for autism awareness

Posted at 11:10 PM, Apr 30, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-30 23:10:11-04

WXYZ — April is Autism Awareness Month, and police departments are jumping into action.

Officers from Northvile, Troy and Ferndale are uniting to educate themselves and others -- with a top goal of taking the right approach while assisting people with autism.

According to the Autism Alliance of Michigan, Michigan has the fifth largest autism population in the U.S.

More than 16,500 students in Michigan have been diagnosed with autism. It's a developmental disorder that can impact how people communicate, behave, socialize and process information. No two cases are exactly alike.

Police departments are using calming bags, stickers, and undergoing training -- to help spread awareness across metro Detroit.

"I have a 10-year-old son with autism and I want to make sure that if he interacts with police - or police interact with him - or people like him that they know what to look for, what to expect..." explained Ferndale Police Officer Alison Shank.

Ferndale is among several departments receiving training from the Autism Alliance of Michigan. The department is also showing support by outfitting their cruisers with puzzle pieces, which are used to represent the autism community.

Over in Troy, officers are also eager to learn more about the developmental disorder that impacts so many people and families.

"Our training gives us a little cue of what to kind of expect," shared Troy Police Officer Paul Okley.

Troy Police are handing out autism awareness stickers, and they serve a great purpose.

"These stickers are available to place on the back of your vehicle. This gives an officer an indication that there may be a person of autism inside the vehicle," Okley told 7 Action News.

Homeowners can also place stickers in their windows to give officers a heads up that someone with autism might welcome them at the door. Anyone can request a sticker regardless of where you live.

Over in Northville, Community Service Officer Andrew Domzalski is leading the charge. He rolled out innovative calming bags to help address sensory needs statewide. Inside, you'll find earmuffs, sunglasses and sensory toys.

Support for autism awareness in Northville is growing every day. Officers stop by schools as much as possible to hand out stickers, and apply their training in the classroom.

Meantime, students from Northville and beyond are playing ball to help hit a home run for people with autism.