Oklahoma's Own In Focus: State Capitol Bill Would Allow Those With Autism To Mark It On Their Driver's License

A bill filed at the state capitol by Edmond Republican State Representative Nicole Miller would allow people who are autistic to get a marker on their driver's license so law enforcement would know.

Wednesday, January 31st 2024, 10:37 pm



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A bill filed at the state capitol by Edmond Republican State Representative Nicole Miller would allow people who are autistic to get a marker on their driver's license so law enforcement would know.

The proposal follows an interim study last October and people could opt in, it would not be required.

The Autism Foundation of Oklahoma says people with autism are seven times more likely to have police interactions.

Officers all over the state get special training on how to recognize someone who is autistic and how to respond accordingly.

Departments News On 6 spoke with said they support the identifier, but there is still a lot more officers need to learn.

During an interaction with law enforcement, officers must be aware of several variables in a matter of seconds including the behavior of the person they are about to meet.

Jenks Police Officer Joshua Semke says in some cases that includes identifying autism.

“Some of the interactions we get they are silent, they are shy, they don't want to come out, and sometimes they want to maybe repeat the same thing over and over again. Those are the type of communication skills that we've been trained on to detect that,” Semke said.

Officers train to enhance their understanding of autism spectrum disorders.

Tulsa County Sheriff's Office Captain Michael Heisten said this includes learning about common mannerisms and communication challenges individuals with autism may experience.

“An officer or deputy would be able to understand that maybe someone isn't being noncompliant. Maybe they're on the spectrum,” Heisten said.

To help, the Jenks Police Department brands one of its patrol cars to spread autism awareness.

“We’re very proud of this vehicle. It’s also it’s basically a billboard so our community,” Semke said.

The car is modified to accommodate those with sensory sensitivities. The siren is disabled when it's in park and lightbars can be turned off individually.

The officer who drives it, Officer Cody Galloway, not only uses his training professionally but in his personal life as well.

Galloway also has autism.

“It’s built my confidence quite a bit, especially in this profession. It’s helped me overcome. It’s helped me get in front of people. It’s helped me do public speaking because before I was that little shell that was reserved,” Galloway said.

Officers say having an autism identifier on a driver’s license would help ensure safer and more inclusive interactions between law enforcement and people with autism.

Stacey Weddington with Autism Oklahoma has a 26-year-old son who learned he had autism just as he was going to get his driver's license.

She's in favor of the legislation because it would make law enforcement aware that a driver may process interactions like a traffic stop differently.

"Some of that awareness can be very, very helpful from preventing things from looking like the drive is being argumentative or combative," Weddington said.

Lawmakers are expected to consider the legislation in the upcoming session.

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