The partnership between the Key West Police Department and the Autism Society of the Keys continued this week, with the society’s donation of sensory boxes to the police department. The boxes contain items that will help police officers establish a rapport with autistic children and adults when responding to an emergency.

The boxes contain headphones, fidget spinners, weighted neck pillows, squishy balls, monkey noodles, dry erase boards, and other items used to relax individuals on the autism spectrum when having a stimming sensory overload.

“People on the spectrum exhibit all sorts of behaviors, called stimming,” Hope Haley, who is heavily involved with ASK, told Keys Weekly in April. “They’ll flail their hands or hit themselves or others. Our daughter will just run away at top speed when she’s alarmed.”

Untrained police often mistake these stimming behaviors as drug-induced behavior, Haley said, which is why the police training is so crucial and appreciated by ASK members.

Key West Police Chief Sean Brandenburg in the past year has ensured that every Key West police officer received specialized training to recognize behavior of people on the autism spectrum. His support for the Autism Society of the Keys has been unwavering.

“Officers can use the boxes and tools inside to help them establish a rapport when handling situations with children or adults on the autism spectrum,” said Hope Haley. 

The Autism Society of the Keys is a Keyswide support group created by Craig and Jill Campbell for parents of autistic children. 

The group has worked to increase awareness, education and acceptance for children who may respond unpredictably to stimuli such as loud noises and flashing lights. 

The Haleys’ daughter is on the autism spectrum and they have worked closely with Brandenburg to raise awareness and get each officer trained to recognize behaviors of people on the autism spectrum and to respond in a way that won’t elevate a situation.

To assemble the sensory boxes, the Autism Society of the Keys received donations from Home Depot and the Key West Rotary Club. Home Depot donated the boxes and the Rotary Club provided a generous donation that allowed the purchasing of the sensory items. 

In addition to training all officers to recognize and better handle autism and distributing the sensory boxes to officers, Brandenburg created a method for parents to register their address and alert police to the presence of an autistic child at an address. 

“It’s entirely voluntary,” Brandenburg said in April, but for parents who want to participate, the KWPD can “flag” their address in its dispatch software and include notes about a child’s triggers. “That way, if a 911 call comes for that address, the responding officers will see specific notes about the child, and the police perhaps can approach without sirens and flashing lights, which can cause seizures in some people on the autism spectrum,” Haley said. To donate or sponsor a sensory box for $150 each, Autism Society of the Keys is accepting donations through Facebook or Venmo.

Hope Haley and Jill Campbell of Autism Society of the Keys distribute sensory boxes to help Key West Police officers establish a rapport with kids and adults on the autism spectrum and help curtail some of their stimming behaviors. CONTRIBUTED
With donations from The Home Depot and Key West Rotary Club, the Autism Society of the Keys provided sensory boxes to the Key West Police Department. The boxes contain items that help officers establish a rapport with kids and adults on the autism spectrum. CONTRIBUTED

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