HANOVER — Hanson native Laurie Fusco — who is also a mom and advocate for youth with autism — and her son Kevin, 15, who has autism, joined several families for Pizza with the Police last Thursday and a viewing of “Be Safe: The Movie” at the South Shore Children’s Museum in the Hanover Mall.
Fusco was instrumental in bringing national advocate and educator Emily Iland, M.A., co-producer of “Be Safe: The Movie” to educate both officers and youths with autism and other disorders on how to safely interact with one another.
The group enjoyed pizza, watched the movie and then played games that helped role play and enforce behavior modeling students saw on the video first. Officers and guests were able to sit together and intermingle in an undisturbed, non-threatening environment.
Iland who has an adult son, 34, with autism was first made aware of the need for education more than 20 years ago when her son had experiences with officers.
“I was very worried about him when he was out driving, because he has autism.” Iland said. “I wasn’t sure how he would do in meeting the police. It is as important to teach the police how to interact and understand how to interact with people with disabilities.”
In reviewing her efforts over the last 20 years and the education of 5,000 officers she realized it was still not enough.
“We have to also train our young people”, she said. “I discovered there were no tools to aid with teaching. I decided to do something about it.”
The movie was made by and for those with Autism Spectrum Disorder, according to a press release about the program about which Iland is so passionate. The DVD is a video modeling tool using games, activities and lessons to reinforce positive and safe behaviors when dealing with law enforcement.
Iland recently worked with Plymouth County Sheriff Joseph McDonald and Hanson Chief Michael Miksch in February training 50 officers and deputies on autism.
She joined forces with producer Joey Travolta who has a movie training studio and works with individuals with cognitive disorders, autism, ADHD, and various mental health disorders.
They created “Be Safe: The Movie” using specific techniques to educate youth on the autism spectrum on how to interact safely with police officers.
State Rep Josh Cutler, D-Duxbury, and Hanson police along with officers and police chiefs from several south shore communities attended the event.
“We teach individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder not to run, fight, or reach for the officer’s belt, or equipment,” Iland said. “In return for the officers — the event allowed a casual meeting with youth in their communities who may have a disability — the officer can hear how they talk, communicate and can even offer mentoring skills to help them develop skills to grow positively within the community.”
Key behaviors which are enforced through the movie are that an officer must be able to see your hands. The organization handed out self-disclosure cards in which families may want to fill out with their information and specific accommodations.
“They can’t just reach into their pockets so we use the correct model on how to behave and ask for help,” said Iland.
As past president of the Autism Society in Los Angeles Iland is an award winning author, is an adjunct professor of Special Education at California State University, Northridge. She is the author of Experience Autism training for law enforcement and is actively involved in initiatives and policies related to autism and safety, according to her bio emilyiland.com.