A person with an Asperger profile may want to disclose when interacting with a "first responder." (i.e., a police officer, firefighter, or emergency medical technician.) This kind of disclosure may be especially hard, because the situation may be an emergency, or one in which you feel threatened or unsafe. We recommend wearing a medical ID necklace or bracelet (if you can tolerate it) to alert first responders about autism. Medical ID bracelets are a common, well-recognized means of providing health and disability information to first responders. The medical ID bracelet can explain that you are autistic and either include more information or let the first responder know you have a wallet card with more information.
Wallet cards can be used in addition to a medical ID bracelet to share information in non-confrontational situations (e.g. with a health care provider at a regular visit or at the emergency room). Police may misinterpret your intentions when you reach for an identification or wallet card. They may make the false assumption that you are reaching for a weapon. Do not reach for any identification or wallet card until a police officer tells you it is ok to do so.
Remember to follow these rules if you are using a wallet card:
- Always ask if you can show the officer your wallet card to explain autism BEFORE you reach for it
- Tell the officer where your wallet card is and ask again if it is okay to reach for it (e.g. my pocket, purse, backpack, glove compartment)
- Do not make any sudden moves when getting your wallet card
- Practice what you will say to first responders with trusted people. Some people like to use a script so that become more familiar and comfortable with how to communicate their needs.
For first responders: Tips to help interact with autistic individuals.
Many individuals will feel anxious and show behaviors that are not suspicious, but are a result of their anxiety (e.g. pacing, talking to self, red face, clenched fists, not making eye contact, walking away).
- Keep your voice calm and talk slowly
- Don't ask too many questions at once
- Allow time for the individual to process what you are saying (count to 30 in your head before repeating request)
- Do not touch the individual without letting them know what you are going to do
- Do not require eye contact
- Ask if there is an emergency contact you can call for the individual
For more information about safety, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) has an Autism & Safety Toolkit
How to Use the Wallet Card
The Wallet Card Video below explains when and how to use the wallet card. It includes depictions of three different scenarios where the Wallet Card brings clarity to interactions between people with ASD and law enforcement. The video is produced by Deborah Dietz and hosted by Lieutenant Bart Barta from the Coral Gables Police Department and Haley Moss, a young woman on the autism spectrum.