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Post Date:04/24/2024 12:00 PM

NEW HAVEN, CT – In an effort to better serve New Haven residents with disabilities and in commemoration of Autism Acceptance Month, the New Haven Police Department has partnered with the New Haven Office of Services for Persons with Disabilities, the New Haven Commission on Disabilities, and the Walk with Derek organization to develop and implement a new “Autism Safety Alert Form” and program aimed at helping first responders to better engage, support, protect, and serve individuals living with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) during public safety emergencies and crisis situations.

The “Autism Safety Alert Form” is a voluntary online form that has been created to allow residents with ASD or their parents and guardians to submit an individual’s personal information (including their name, nickname, age, height, weight, parent/guardian contact information, and other identifying information) as well as other important characteristics that may be specific to them, such as their communication characteristics (including whether a person verbal or non-verbal); atypical behaviors; environmental sensitivities (including noise, crowds, touch, and light); preferred calming methods; personal space preferences; interests and likes; things to avoid and dislikes; and other important information. This information can be crucial for police officers and other first responders in responding to individuals with autism spectrum disorder who may not have the ability to convey this information themselves. The form is available on the city’s website at – and, upon submission, will be shared with the Public Safety Communications Department, which operates the city’s 9-1-1 Emergency Call Center.

When a 9-1-1 call is made and the name or address of an individual on the ASD registry is identified or shared, 9-1-1 dispatchers and their fellow first responders will be alerted to this match and provided with critical information about the individual in order to help support a more effective response, interaction, and overall outcome.

“The New Haven Police Department is committed to serving our residents in the most informed, compassionate, and appropriate manner possible, and individuals living with autism spectrum disorder often have unique sensitivities that are critical for our officers to know and understand. We want to be able to effectively respond and to quickly connect, deescalate, and support individuals with ASD during a public safety emergency. The more information we have upfront when we’re responding to a call, the more likely we’ll have a much better engagement and outcome in the end,” said Police Chief Karl Jacobson. “I strongly encourage individuals, parents, and caregivers to submit an Autism Safety Alert Form for their family member, and I want to thank the Walk with Derek organization, the Office of Services for Persons with Disabilities, and the New Haven Commission on Persons with Disabilities for their collaboration and partnership in making us a stronger a more effective police department.”

According to estimates by the U.S .Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 2.2 percent of adults and approximately 2.8 percent of children in the United States have been identified with autism spectrum disorder.

With New Haven’s population of nearly 139,000 residents, which includes over 108,000 residents age 18 or older and over 30,500 residents under the age of 18, this would equate to approximately 2,400 adults and approximately 850 children living with ASD in the Elm City.

The concept of this initiative originated with Jennifer Harding, founder of the organization Walk with Derek, named after her son who has autism spectrum disorder.

“I created this program in February of 2022 after my son and I were in a car accident. That evening, all I could think about was what would have happened if I was unconscious and Derek, being non-verbal, could not communicate with emergency responders. All parents worry about their children, but there is no greater level of worry than of a special needs parent,” said Harding. “This form not only helps responders support individuals on the spectrum, but also gives the parents and caregivers a sense of comfort knowing effort was made to make a situation as comfortable and safe as possible for our children. I want to thank the New Haven Police Department for making this available to New Haven residents.”

Gretchen Knauff, Director of the New Haven Office of Services for Persons with Disabilities shared, “The Autism Safety Alert initiative and Walk with Derek program creates a new and critical link between individuals with autism and emergency services personnel in New Haven. The information provided by families and caregivers should lead to greater understanding by the emergency personnel – and, ultimately, more successful interactions at the time of the emergency. Thank you to Jennifer Harding and Walk with Derek for bringing this program to the City of New Haven and thank you to the New Haven Police Department and the Public Safety Communications Department for collaborating with the Commission on Disabilities and the Department of Services for Persons with Disabilities to bring this initiative to fruition in New Haven.”

Billy Huang, Chair of the New Haven Commission on Disabilities, stated, “This initiative is a crucial collaboration that is both sensitive to the needs of individuals with Autism and an example of cross-sector collaboration to enable a fully inclusive New Haven.”

The Autism Safety Alert Form builds on the NHPD’s ongoing commitment to serving residents with disabilities. Officers receive disability-related training during their initial training as officers and as part of their continuing education. The education includes ADA training on rights of people with disabilities, disability etiquette to assist in interacting with people with disabilities, and effective communication. 

Officer Christian Bruckhart; (475) 434-7808
Public Information Officer
New Haven Police Department
1 Union Avenue
New Haven, CT 06511

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