County launches autism 'flagging' system

Police and other emergency responders in Howard County can now know in advance whether a home they are going to has a person with autism or a similar disability — information that autism advocates say can help both those there to help and those needing help.

Families can now have their addresses "flagged" in the emergency dispatchers' database through a program being promoted by the Howard County Autism Society and the Howard County Police Department.

"By doing so, first responders will have first-hand knowledge of a cognitively disabled person before arriving on the scene, and families will have added peace of mind that first responders know of special circumstances in their homes," said Beth Benevides Hill, a board member for the county autism society.

Requests should include helpful information such as whether the person is nonverbal and how he or she might react when scared, Benevides Hill said.

The program was launched about two months ago and 10 families have signed up so far, she said.

"We're just starting to promote it to our families, but as more and more find out about it ... hopefully people will take the five minutes to fill out the form and take advantage of it," she said.

A total of 30 families have signed up for the county's "Rapid Return" program, in which people with autism, Down syndrome, dementia and other impairments wear small devices that help emergency dispatchers find them in case they walk away, she said.

Request forms for the 911 flagging program can be found at Request forms for the Rapid Return program can be found at

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