The old joke goes: I wake up every morning and thank God for Alabama, because if it weren’t for Alabama, Mississippi would be last in everything. <>
Four years ago when my son was about to get his driver’s license I contacted State Sen. Gray Tollison with the idea of a mark on the driver’s license that would identify those with autism to our police and first responders. The request would have to come from a physician who was familiar with the person, kind of like the paperwork needed to get a handicap tag. There would be little to no cost, and what cost there was would be borne by the people getting the ID.
Tollison took the idea and went one better by adding those with Tourette’s syndrome. The law was drafted and it went nowhere. Tollison said that it is not unusual for a bill not to make it out of committee the first year. I went to visit Rep. D. Stephen Holland in Tupelo and had a wonderful visit. He is familiar with autism and said that he would support it. The second year – nothing.
My son, a freshman at Mississippi State at the time, was driving back to campus one Sunday night and the sheriff’s department and highway patrol had a DUI checkpoint set up. I got a call from a Chickasaw County Deputy. He introduced himself and my heart went to my throat as I found a chair to sit in. He asked if Joseph was on any sort of medication. I knew what had happened and replied, “no medication, but let me tell you what he is doing.” I described how he would not look the officer in the eye and spoke in low tones and gave short-clipped answers. I described a few other peculiarities and the officer said yes that was it. I explained that what he was seeing was Asperger’s and that my son was a student at Mississippi State. The officer let him go on his way and relief washed over me in a wave. I wrote a letter to the sheriff of the county thanking him and the deputy for caring and being astute in placing the call. Another year passed and Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves came to Oxford and had a town meeting at the Oxford Conference Center. I made my pitch. Everyone on the platform nodded in the affirmative and Reeves sent a young lady over to get my particulars. I handed her a copy of the bill that had been drafted a couple of years before.
Time passed and Reeves sent a nice letter that said the issue was turned over to the Department of Public Safety and I would be hearing from them. Almost another year now has passed, another legislative session and nothing from the department. I had been told to go to hell in such a way I would look forward to the trip. Perhaps in standard Mississippi Legislature procedure I had (like we used to say in the Army) been the subject of “a request passed to another department without action is considered an action completed by all concerned.”
Autism Speaks this month had an article about how Alabama had just passed a law issuing ID cards to those with autism (voluntary of course) to hand to police and first responders.
Bama Hager, the policy and program director at the Autism Society of Alabama said in a recent interview with Sydney Cromwell of the Vestavia Voice, “Many interactions with first responders will often occur during events that might provoke frustration, fear and anxiety. “That experience is often heightened for those on the (autistic) spectrum. In other words, a teen or adult with autism may function very effectively and independently in the community. When faced with a stressful event, the same teen or adult may have a very difficult time communicating their thoughts and feelings. With the introduction of these cards, drivers with autism can keep the cards next to their licenses and hand them both to police if they’re pulled over. This would help officers understand how to interact and be patient with the driver.”
The police have a hard enough time determining if the person they are talking to is a threat. A card and a little education would make everyone concerned safer.
“And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’”
Alabama did in a year what Mississippi has been unable and unwilling to accomplish in four.
This time Alabama can say, thank God for Mississippi.
H.M. Brummett is a fifth-generation resident of Lafayette County. He can be reached at email@example.com