A free initiative launched this year to make it easier for people with autism and learning disabilities to navigate stressful situations is proving to be a huge success.
The Autism Alert Cards enable police and other emergency service workers to communicate with autistic residents more effectively, helping those on the autism spectrum feel comfortable in difficult or frightening situations.
James Cockles, 27, from Wath-upon-Dearne said the alert card has given him a renewed confidence in the police, following some distressing previous encounters with officers.
James said: “My first experience of the police was one of the scariest times of my life. I had no way to communicate effectively with the officers due to my increased stress levels and autism, so I was unable to express myself and was deemed a threat because my actions and responses were incoherent.
“I lost a lot of trust in the police that day and for years I lived with no trust at all, simply because a lack of communication caused the situation to deteriorate between myself and the officers.
“Recently I obtained an autism alert card, and although unused thus far, it’s instilled me with confidence, knowing that if I am in crisis there’s now a system in place for the police to support me and communicate with me more efficiently, without having to resort to complicated or unfamiliar communication attempts.”
Another card-user told Barnsley-based PC Julie Hollingdrake, that since receiving it, she takes her card everywhere with her.
PC Hollingdrake said: “On one occasion the young lady was out and about, when she got stuck in the middle of a public order incident involving other individuals. She got into a panic and when police attended, she showed her card and officers immediately took her out of the situation and moved her to a safe place. They then stayed with her until she calmed down and felt she could make her own way home.”
The scheme was rolled-out across the whole of South Yorkshire in March this year, following a successful trial in Rotherham in 2019.
Applying for a card is simple. You provide details about your sensory experiences, interests and communication needs, and then receive a credit-card sized card to carry around with you.
Then, should you ever be in contact with a member of the emergency services, on presenting the card they will have that information readily available. This enables them to communicate better and offer the most appropriate support, tailored specifically to your needs.
Assistant Chief Constable Tim Forber from South Yorkshire Police, said: “I am delighted to see that the Autism Alert Card is having such a positive impact on people’s interactions with the police and other emergency services in South Yorkshire.
“What may seem like an everyday situation to most, can suddenly become a frightening or upsetting one for others. These cards give the emergency services and partners access to specific information on how best to support each individual. I would encourage everyone who qualifies to apply for a card.”
Alongside the cards and in partnership with the local authorities across the region, Sheffield, Rotherham and Barnsley are also part of the national Safe Places network. The nationally recognised logo is displayed in locations such as libraries, cafes, shops and leisure centres.
If you feel overwhelmed, scared or worried when you are out in the community, you can visit an identifiable safe place to access the right support.
In Doncaster, Safe In Doncaster operates in the same way, although it is not part of the national scheme.
Anyone with a formal autism diagnosis can apply for an autism alert card. These can be ordered by emailing South Yorkshire Police at: Autism_Alert_Card@southyorks.pnn.police.uk.
You can find out more about the Safe Places National Network at: https://www.safeplaces.org.uk/
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