STERLING, Va. - The Loudoun County Sheriff's Office in partnership with Loudoun County Public Schools has developed a pilot program to assist emergency responders with children with special needs.
"Parents' biggest fear [is] what happens when their loved ones, whether it's a child or [an] adult with [a] disability, is out in the community, has crisis behaviors, and police are called. What happens in those situations?" said Melissa Heifetz, Interim Executive Director with the Arc of Loudoun on Paxton Campus.
To help that situation, School Resource Officer, Christina Evans came up with an idea that she shared with Loudoun County Public Schools.
"We thought because we have so many children with Autism in our schools, and law enforcement [is] often involved, with those students that it would be a great way to provide the support the children may need in the schools and the community," said Dr. Joy Engstrom, Autism Program Specialist Secondary.
And that's what kicked-off Project Emergency Response.
"It helps identify children that have issues of Autism. What we try to do is get information that we take by computer, but then we actually print out cards for the kids to have," said Sheriff Mike Chapman, Loudoun County Sheriff's Office.
This allows a responding deputy to know what might trigger or de-escalate a certain response from an individual with Autism and how to provide proper interaction and care.
"They can know how to identify them. They know what sets them off. They know what kind of things calm them down, de-escalate them, and how to get in contact with their caretakers. That kind of information is going to save lives," said Heifetz.
Officials said 49 percent of individuals with Autism will wander from a safe or supervised place, which is why having this new pilot project in the area gives residents comfort.
"It makes me feel better as a parent, and I think the first responders will feel better that they've had some experience or training in these cases," said Joseph Ryan, a father of two children with special needs.
Loudoun County Sheriff's Office and Loudoun County Public Schools is piloting the project at Seneca Ridge Middle School and Dominion High School.
"Our goal is to have every student in the county in the system, if the parents prefer. [We hope that] working more with the police department to develop more trainings for the officers, so [they] are knowledgeable and more adequately trained about Autism," said Engstrom.
During the meeting, residents also had the opportunity to learn about Project Lifesaver, which is an electronic-based tracking system for people with special needs that have a tendency to wander from home or become lost.