Worry about police interactions are among the top concerns we hear from new drivers with ASD and their parents. Police interactions can be nerve racking for any driver, but may be particularly challenging for those with ASD who are adversely impacted by sensory issues and/or anxiety (think bright lights, sirens, making eye contact and interacting with an officer.) Sensory overload of this magnitude could lead to a meltdown.
Fear of police interaction isn't unwarranted. Within the ASD community, there are stories of traffic stops gone awry. Lack of eye contact can be mistaken for perceived wrongdoing. Speech difficulties can be mistaken for intoxication. Anxiety can be misinterpreted for disobedience. Things can get bad quickly if an interaction escalates to handcuffs. So, the risks and the fears are clear, let's address them.
Our first recommendation is to go meet your local police officers. Especially in small towns, the police are often excited to be a part of the community. Simply call and explain that you have a new driver with ASD who wants to learn what to do if pulled over. Many departments will not only sit down with you and your new driver, but will actually do a trial run of a traffic stop, which can be incredibly helpful.
Next, we recommend putting something in your glove box that explains autism and your specific needs. In Connecticut, the State Police created a program called the Blue Envelope. The envelope holds the registration and insurance card, and when handed to a Police Officer, signals that the driver is on the Spectrum. Even if you are outside of CT, you can create this for yourself. Make a nice envelope that states that the driver has ASD and struggles with eye contact, communication and stimulus. This should help the police officer interact appropriately with the driver.
Finally, we recommend taking our 6-part webinar series that includes an entire course on getting pulled over. We go through setting expectations and really get into details on how to make this generally uncomfortable situation go as smoothly as possible.
In a perfect world, you'll never be pulled over. We can hope that you will always follow the law to the letter and will never need the information in this blog. However, as one of our students Collin keeps saying, it is better to hope for the best and plan for the worst. We hope this helps! If you have additional suggestions, include them in the comments below.