Rhode Islanders react to bill proposing distinction for drivers on spectrum

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WLNE) — A bill introduced at the State House would give Rhode Island residents the options to have an identifier on or inside their car or license to let law enforcement know if they’re autistic.

Joanne Quinn is the executive director of The Autism Project and she also has a 27-year-old autistic son.

Quinn said the bill is a good starting point to help better the relationship between those on the autism spectrum and police

“Patrick is a tall young man. He’s six-feet, two inches, 250 pounds, and he has some self ‘stimming’ that he does. And it can be the same if he’s happy, if he’s stressed, if he’s angry, and we need to have it so that he’s safe.”

Quinn said she does worry about her son getting stopped by police and what that interaction may look like.

“If you’re talking at him, ‘Hey, buddy. Great, how you doing? You were going a little fast.’ He’s heightened or he turns on his heels and walks away cause that’s his coping strategy. How’s that going to go over with a police officer? If he says, ‘Hey, let’s get out of the car, he’ll get out of the car. But Pat’s going to walk away — you do you, no disrespect but I can’t be here. This is sensory overload,” said Quinn.


Quinn believes it’s important for lawmakers to discuss how to bridge the gap between law enforcement and people who have autism.

The bill introduced Tuesday would give people on the spectrum the option to have a marker on their license or car to help law enforcement identify drivers on the spectrum if pulled over.

A non-verbal Rhode Island high school senior is supporting the bill and has been researching other states with similar laws in place, like Connecticut.

“The goal is avoid misunderstanding between the officer and the driver,” he said. “The blue envelope program was created to help communication with a police officer and a driver with autism.”

“If there’s a subtle way to say there’s somebody who has a different communication style, somebody with specific medical needs, that is important information to have. But, how do we do it discretely so it’s not screaming out to the whole world?” Quinn said.

Some opponents argue the bill would further stigmatize those with autism.

The bill was held for further study following Tuesday’s hearing and the sponsor said he is open to amending the measure.

Categories: News, Providence, Rhode Island