‘Autism doesn’t have a look’: Mom brings awareness to special needs amid police training

Published: Mar. 16, 2023 at 8:50 PM EDT
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HORRY COUNTY, S.C. (WMBF) - Mom of two, Jessica Keefer, said her three-year-old daughter, Delaney, is non-verbal.

Because her daughter is so young, Keefer said she already keeps Horry County Police Department ‘special needs’ stickers on her vehicles and her home.

Although she said, these stickers do give her some piece of mind, she said she wants to know what steps first responders are taking to help individuals with a disability during an emergency situation.

“It’s something I didn’t even think about,” said Keefer. “As a mother with a child with a disability, I didn’t think about it. In case of an emergency, if I’m in a car accident and I’m unconscious, how are police gonna know that my child cannot speak?”

Horry County Police officers as well as members from different agencies across our state are taking part in specialized training for those exact situations.

The autism portion of the training was conducted by Stephanie Turner, the autism director at the South Carolina Department of Disabilities and Special Needs (DDSN).

First responders are learning what autism characteristics can look like and different ways to communicate with individuals with those characteristics.

Horry County police say this is a new program they are implementing into their department, which started last year along with their sticker program.

Officers say it’s important to be aware that every person with autism is different and what can work for one, may not work for another.

During the training, first responders also learned how to best de-escalate a situation with a person with special needs. They also all carry sensory kits in their vehicles.

Horry County Police Captain John Harrleson said he’s a father of a child with special needs. He said these pieces of training are important for first responders, but also so the community and parents like Keefer see they’re aware of these challenges.

“It’s critical. There’s so many individuals that can come to our area and visit our area, but also that live here. Whether they fall on the spectrum or they have some other type of special need, that law enforcement may encounter,” said Harrleson.

If you need a sticker, email specialneeds@horrycounty.org with the type of sticker you would like to request.