Autism safety plan gets nationwide attention

a Portlaoise mother’s idea to help runaway autistic children return home safely is gaining interest from families all over Ireland. Recently launched at Portlaoise Garda Station, it could soon be rolled out nationwide.

a Portlaoise mother’s idea to help runaway autistic children return home safely is gaining interest from families all over Ireland. Recently launched at Portlaoise Garda Station, it could soon be rolled out nationwide.

Genevieve Fagan from Kilminchy came up with the Autism Awareness Safety Plan when she heard of an autistic child being knocked down by a car after running out on the road. Her daughter Lucy, aged 6, is autistic and non-verbal, and also tends to run away.

“She has no sense of fear, we have to have the house like Fort Knox. When I heard of that accident I said to my husband this is our worst nightmare. We felt that some families would be afraid to alert Gardaí if their child ran away for fear of being accused of being bad parents. We did some research and came up with this plan,” she said.

Thanks to their suggestion, information sheets with descriptions of local autistic children will soon be on file at Portlaoise Garda Station, where all emergency calls are directed. If a child runs, their parent can call 999 and an immediate alert will go out to all units to find that child. Included is a photo, information on where the child might go, what calms them down and what makes them upset.

“For example, a tight hug calms Lucy down, but another child might get upset if someone just touched them,” Genevieve explained.

She was delighted to get support from Portlaoise Community Garda Sgt Justine Reilly, and from LOFFA, the local autism family support group. Many of the 180 families in LOFFA have already returned their information sheet, and with the support of Irish Autism Action, the newly launched facebook page got 170 likes overnight when it went live last Thursday night.

“Already I have ten emails from Donegal to Cork from groups enquiring how they can set one up in their county. We are waiting to hear back from the Garda Commissioner now on how it can be done,” Genevieve said.

A recent Family Fun day held at Portlaoise Garda Station taught the children that Gardaí are safe to approach.

“The Gardaí were fantastic with the kids, they had their research done, they have really come on board with it,” Genevieve said.

See www.loffa.ie or call LOFFA at 087 2339572.