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Autism 911 moves to county level


October 21, 2009
Melissa Deed of Gilford works for the Family Support Counsel and Lakes Region Community Service but says her newest collaborative project, Autism 911, is something she wishes to pursue with the title of "mom," since she herself has personal ties with autism.

Autism 911 is a project where families tied to autism can register with the program to have their family member documented with a packet and a picture of the child in case they go missing. Families are also encouraged to document exactly where they think their child may run to, based on their fears and their favorite places.

"God forbid if a child is taken, it is instant. The first and second hour are the most important," said Deed, whose own son was registered in Merrimack last year. "It gives them an idea of where they will be since they already have all the information they need. It is a step in a new direction."

She explained that it is important to write down other information about the child as well so that police are informed on how to approach the child, since many children with Autism battle severe sensory issues, said Deed. She said that writing down fears work as well, such as water, which can rule out specific locations where the child may have run off too. Police also have specific calming tactics to work off of when confronting the child.

Deed said that packets will go to the parents, police stations, and so on in case of such an emergency. The information is sent straight to the 911 system.

Autism 911 advocates set up fort during the recent Belknap County Safety Day and had 17 more families register plus area agencies that day alone, as well as a few adults with autism. Sometimes adults with autism are more difficult to track down then children are, said Deed.

Deed said that this is the first year the project will run from town to town within the county. Police officers must go through training as well for the program, watch videos, and take a class at the police academy.

Although Deed plans to involve every town in the county, she is still in the process of meeting with police chiefs from each town that has been registered, but she hopes to have the program up and running in the next few months.

Dave Hackett from Nashua explained that the project started down in southern New Hampshire last year. Hackett himself has an older son with autism and personally finds it hard to keep track of his son at times who can be a "wanderer." This is what inspired Hackett to promote Autism 911 as a countywide project in Belknap.

"This project started in Manchester. It has been running for two years, and it is the first time we have tried it at a county level," said Hackett, who along with his wife stays involved with the autism agency of New Hampshire. "We're hoping to get kids from all over the county."

Hackett spoke to county police chiefs along with Deed, and they decided that Autism 911 was a project they would be willing to pursue and expand on in the Lakes Region. Although families are not required to register, they will be able to obtain information from their local police departments.

Deed said that Chief Robert Cormier from the Tilton Police Department and Chief of Police John Markland from Gilford, who is also on the board for Lakes Region Community Service, are both in support of the program Autism 911 and have been a big help in getting the word out.

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