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New Autism project works to alert first responders of sensitivities

Kenny and Brad Benjamin meeting with Prince George's County Police officials about the Autism FYI National Registry. (ABC7 photo)

Twenty-seven-year-old Brad Benjamin and his 26-year-old brother Kenny are working hard on a project in their parent's home where they live. They hope this project could literally save a life like their own.

"The reason why we are excited about this is because this way people would never fear about people with Aspergers and Autism anymore," says Kenny Benjamin.

The Benjamin brothers are among an estimated 3.5 million Americans who are on the Autism spectrum. They and their parents, Joyce and James Benjamin have formed a first ever National Autism Registry that works specifically with first responders.

"We are trying to give the officers a heads up on what they are dealing with and train them on how they can deal with it," says Joyce Benjamin.

Registry members get a wearable USB device, adorned with the Autism emblem of a puzzle piece in a yield sign, which gives officers critical information about the person they're dealing with.

The Benjamins want to avoid recent cases in which people on the spectrum have been unnecessarily hurt during encounters with police.

Joyce Benjamin says, "My oldest, if he gets anxious he may get combative just out of fear."

People on the spectrum can be sensitive to light, noise and touch, can have trouble recognizing social cues and when confronted, anxiety can spike. These are all potential problems when interacting with police.

"People fear what they don't understand about us autistic people," says Kenny Benjamin.

This week the Benjamin family sat down with Prince George's County Police Chief Hank Stawinski. His agency is the first to dole out registry decals and advice to officers on how to better interact with people on the Autism spectrum.

"Having that officer in a position to know in advance that they are going to have a difference perspective on things than some other folks that helps. And at the end of the day what's important is that everyone is safer," says Prince George's County Police Chief Hank Stawinski.

All agree, if future interactions go this well, Kenny and Brad Benjamin will be busy working to expand the Autism FYI National Registry for years to come in their basement.

"To the people far and wide all over the world with or without Asperger's and autism; don't treat it as a curse, treat it like a miracle. And a gift," says Kenny Benjamin.

The Benjamin's tell us the registry is voluntary and families can opt out at any time.

They hope police agencies across the country partner with them. For now, Prince George's County and several other Maryland counties, including Calvert, Charles, St. Mary's, Talbot and Queen Anne's, have agreed to partner with them.


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