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Autism Mom and 911 Dispatcher Find A Way to Keep Her Sons Safe

Below is a post by Tracy Clark, a dispatcher for the Grove City, OH Police Department who has two sons with autism. Tracy has been trained to keep people safe but has been concerned about the safety of her boys. Then she discovered Smart911.

After years of infertility, a miscarriage, and two failed surrogacies, adopting our twin baby boys from birth was the miracle my husband and I had prayed for. Two years later our joy turned to sadness and fear when they were both diagnosed with autism.  The normal parenting thoughts and worries that once went through our heads changed immediately.  Instead of worrying about what college they would attend, we worried about whether they could even successfully attend a “typical” school.  As many of you can relate, I was devastated because I could not protect them from this future.  I mourned the loss of the "normal" life my boys may never have.

Thankfully my faith and strong willed personality soon took over and, after many prayers, I wiped away the tears, rolled up my sleeves & got busy doing what I COULD do to help my boys.  Throughout my extensive autism research over the next year or so, I read about delayed development, rigid routines and social problems that my boys may encounter.  I also read horror stories of kids being hurt because they didn’t understand danger, kids wandering away from home, even some losing their lives in a tragic way. I was terrified.

I am a 9-1-1 Dispatcher, and I have been trained and am prepared to keep people safe every time I sit at my console. I am confident in my job, but how can I keep my own boys safe?  In 20+ years I’ve taken 9-1-1 calls from people who couldn’t remember their address, phone number or even what their child was wearing 5 minutes before they disappeared.  In an emergency situation with my sons, I’m not sure that even I would even be able to provide accurate information quickly.   I know from taking these kinds of calls that it is possible, and cell phones provide additional limitations.  With a 9-1-1 call from a cell phone, we don’t necessarily receive the address, just the cell tower location the person is closest to, which is normally not much help. 

If my sons wandered off, how could I explain that my sons couldn’t yell their name, because they are non-verbal?  Would they be found before running into the street or finding the nearest pond?  And if a neighbor finds one of my boys, how would my sons be able to communicate any information?  Fear of the unknown kept me up at night. 

At work we learned of a new system called Smart911.  It is an enhanced 9-1-1 system where you can set up a Safety Profile online and all of your information will be stored in a secured National database.  After you set up your Safety Profile, all of your information will automatically go to the 911 call center where it can be accessed in the Smart911 system.  My supervisor and I were very interested, and went to a meeting with our State Representative Cheryl Grossman and two representatives from Smart911. 

We heard many examples of this system put to use.  Many missing children and Alzheimer's patients have quickly been located with the help of this system.  People who are deaf or unable to communicate verbally can text the 9-1-1 call center. They also explained that you could even enter information about your house layout in case there is a fire. 

Also, when you enter your cell phone number in the system, the home address that you associate with that phone will also be accessible.  I was impressed with the representatives’ passion and dedication to this product, and the possibilities at our agency.  Fortunately our Chief was also impressed, and we now have this system in our center and are the first in our state to be using it.  I immediately set up my Safety Profile online. I was able to explain my sons’ sensory issues; that they are non-verbal, and even uploaded their pictures so that first responders have these details.  I feel a great sense of peace at this reassurance, and a responsibility to pass on this information.  

I’ve learned so much on our autism journey. The normal life I once mourned a few years ago is now only a distant memory.  Our lives are anything BUT normal and patience is definitely a daily requirement, along with coffee!  We have tremendous support from our family and friends who love our boys almost as much as we do! They are in an autism school with amazing teachers and therapists and they’re learning at THEIR pace.  I do not have “typical” kids.  I do have two boys that seem amazed at things that others may not even notice; boys who make the cutest sounds & jump up and down when they’re excited; boys who know only honesty and who occasionally wake up in the middle of the night giggling and running around the house until they get tired, hence the coffee.  My sons sometimes make me crazy with things that have to be “a certain way” (most of you autism parents know what I’m talking about), and although they still only know a few words, they do love to cuddle. They also give the tightest hugs and sweetest kisses imaginable. 

If Smart911 is not yet in your area, I urge you to fight to get Smart911 at your local 9-1-1 call center. It is our duty to be the voice for our kids, especially when our kids don’t have their own voice…yet!

I know with my job, emergencies will happen. I feel more prepared now with Smart911 and I encourage everyone to sign up at www.smart911.com to create a Safety Profile for their family.  And while I will never stop worrying, I am truly blessed. 

Find safety and wandering resources from Autism Speaks, including brand new personalized social stories from Twigtale, here!

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.