LOUISVILLE, Ky. — April marks the month of Autism Awareness, dedicated to spreading awareness, promoting acceptance, and igniting change when it comes to recognizing the needs to people on the autism spectrum and their families.
To celebrate differences, one LMPD Officer opened up to WHAS11 News to talk about her own experience with autism, and to encourage parents who might think their child is on the spectrum.
Officer Amber Ross with LMPD’s Sixth Division spends her evenings preparing dinner for her two sons while usually still in uniform.
“I haven't even had time to change it yet. This is life,” she joked.
Though the menu is simple, her little family can get complicated. Her youngest, Kisyn, is nonverbal. At three-years-old, he uses sign language, sometimes, to ask for another chicken nugget.
“I'd noticed about 13, maybe 14-months that he was regressing, that he wasn't saying mama, and bye-bye and hi anymore. And he wasn't playing with toys,” Ross explained. “I started to do some research. And I read that autism is the number one sign of regression. And I was like, wait a minute, is Kisyn autistic.”
Kisyn was tested at 18-months-old. Her research was right.
“All of us know that Kisyn's life is is different, it is just not like our life has been. You know, he needs our assistance in a different light,” she explained.
But Ross isn't the only parent raising a child with autism, in fact, she’s not even the only police officer.
“It's just a sensory issue. It's not taboo. Everybody has something, my other kids have stuff they hate, that gets on their nerves, it's not taboo at all. And that's how I explain it to my kids,” explained Jeffersontown Police Detective Daniel Goldberg. His nine-year-old, Adam, was diagnosed with autism around three years old.
“He's middle of the road on the spectrum, he started off borderline nonverbal,” Goldberg said. “Now he's starting to encroach into high functioning, we're in a special school now and we're going to be starting him in public school next year.”
Goldberg is proud of his son, but also the Jeffersontown Police Department for getting certified as a department to become an ‘Autism Friendly Business.’ Every officer carries what’s called an “autism bag” filled with sensory items to keep kids comfortable. Goldberg says he’s tested everything on his own son.
“Most cops for years would carry teddy bears in their cars, like what could we do to de-escalate of calm someone or communicate or whatever we need to do until mom dad or guardian get there,” he explained.
JTown PD and LMPD also do simulated trainings to help officers recognize signs of stimming, which might include someone repeatedly rocking, feeling textures or squealing.
“What we've worked on was that the police be able to distinguish understand the difference between someone who might have a medical diagnosis like autism and differentiate that between someone who may be under the influence of a narcotic,” explained Sergeant Justin Witt, who lead LMPD officers in an autism awareness class in 2020.
He said new recruits are required to go through training on autism but offers advice to family members of folks on the spectrum, too.
“Help them get familiar with officers in uniform, because the more you can have those interactions, the less likelihood for a misunderstanding,” Witt explained.
Officer Ross has dedicated her career to helping others, and knows family comes first. It’s why she hopes sharing Kisyn’s story will help those parents who might be unsure about their own child.
“You don't have to be ashamed. It's okay,” she said. “I want parents to know that you may think that your child may need may be delayed, and your child could possibly be delayed, but it won't hurt to get them tested just to be safe, because early intervention can help and work wonders.”
She also offers encouragement to those parents who might be feeling scared. She welcomes anyone who wants to talk about their child and autism to reach out to her at email@example.com.
“It’s most definitely going to be hard. And I get it, it's going to be hard. It's not going to be easy. But you have to get them help. You have to advocate for them. You have to speak up for them.”