Coral Gables police department and disability group create ID cards for people with autism

What happens when lawyers, an academic institution and the police department get together?

The creation of wallet cards, a communication tool used to help individuals with autism spectrum disorder in situations where they would be in contact with law enforcement.

“This card is going to be an aid,” said Lt. Bart Barta of the Coral Gables Police Department, who has a son in elementary school with autism. “We don’t want police officers or first responders to misinterpret the behaviors and the actions that individuals with autism might be having.”

The group behind the wallets cards, Disability Independence Group (DIG), University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) and the Coral Gables Police Department recently won $5,000 in the Philanthropy Miami Shark Tank, a competition launched by Leave a Legacy of Miami-Dade.

The television-inspired event called for community partnerships ideas that would help solve a need in South Florida.

“It had to be a partnership,” said Dave Halpern, a co-chair of Philanthropy Miami, “It had to be new. It had to creative and innovative.”

The reward will be used toward a training video for the wallet cards.

“We’re very excited,” said Deborah Dietz, executive director and one of the founders of DIG. “We’re hoping it will be online and on websites, that it is very accessible for people.”

The training video is in the developmental phase. The small-personalized cards are free for anybody who wants them. An application to receive one is located on DIG’s website (http://www.justdigit.org).

All the cards are personalized per individual. They have a description of a person’s disability, emergency contact information and a BioDot located in the front.

“If you put your thumb on it for a few seconds, it changes colors. If it’s black, it means you’re super stressed. Blue means you’re pretty calm,” said Dietz. “We thought it was a unique way to self-regulate.”

The card is not just a tool of communication, but also teaches people who have autism to be more proactive. It is their responsibility to learn how and when to use the card and present it to a first responder or police officer.

“It provides valuable information,” said Dr. Diane Adreon, the associate director of UM CARD. “It’s not a get-out-of jail card. What they say, can and still, will be used against them.”

The winners of Shark Tank are very passionate about the purpose of the wallet cards.

“We see this as something that we are beginning locally and with the autism community,” said Barta. “But we certainly see it as an application on a more global level. We can see this being used for a lot of other disabilities as well.”

According to an estimate from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 1 in 68 children have been identified with autism.

“It is fastest-growing disability in the world,” said Barta. “It’s not a question of if law enforcement comes in contact with an individual with autism, it’s a question of when.”

Read in Miami Herald.

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