Garda autism help

A NEW scheme to bring lost autistic children back home safely is been spearheaded in Laois and Offaly.

A NEW scheme to bring lost autistic children back home safely is been spearheaded in Laois and Offaly.

The Autism Safety Plan is the brainchild of Portlaoise’s Community Policing Garda Seargent Justine Reilly. She came up with the idea of a central Garda database of children and adults with ASD after hearing the concerns of a Portlaoise parent during a community policing meeting.

“One of the biggest fear for parents of autistic children is that they are prone to abscond. We will now have a plan that will have information readily available in Portlaoise Station, where all calls come centrally.

“We will have a template for every child, with a photo that we can change as they get older. It will have useful information on how to deal with each child, including triggers that could exacerbate a problem, but also calm them down,” she said.

Sgt Reilly is working with LOFFA, the support group for families of autistic children in Laois and Offaly. They have circulated the information sheets to the 280 families who are members, across the two counties, to fill out according to their particular child’s needs.

“This will also educate Gardaí about Autism and Aspergers. When children are out and about, particularly when they get older, it is impossible for Gardaí to know if they have autism, and this will show them any behaviours are simply to do with their condition,” she said.

She hopes to have the information returned as soon as possible so the scheme can get up and running.

“They are imparting personal information, but it will be kept confidential. We hope to get it back as soon as possible, and we will take it from there,” she said.

Edel Shaw, secretary of LOFFA, is supports the scheme.

“This is the first step in the Autism Safety Plan. Sgt Reilly has been instrumental in this, it’s absolutely fantastic,” she said.

Last Sunday, Portlaoise Garda Station held an open afternoon for LOFFA members at the station, complete with bouncy castles, facepainting, and a chance to sit on Garda motorbikes and try on some uniforms. Most importantly, it was an opportunity for Gardai to become more familiar with the condition of Autism, and for children to build up a trust of them.

“This is the next step, to teach younger children who a safe person is. It’s all about the guards getting to meet them, particularly the older children, as they start to see them around the town,” Edel said.

“The most important thing is that people with Autism understand that a Garda is a person of safety who they can trust,” said Sgt Reilly.