Stonington Awarded For New Autism Safety System

A new system in Stonington called “Citizens with Autism Safety System” (CASS) is helping families and first responders keep people with autism safe.

This week the town was awarded for its efforts.

CASS launched last month. It’s an opt-in program that helps police and emergency service personnel locate missing people who have autism and advises how to interact with them when found.

Stonington’s IT Manager, Roger Kizer, developed the program.

It stores confidential information a family gives about the way the person communicates — which is not always verbal - places they like to go, unique behaviors, sensory issues and more.

It also targets bodies of water, including swimming pools, near the last place that a missing person was seen. Kizer said many people on the autism spectrum are drawn to water.

“I have a niece who’s autistic. I know from talking to my sister that when she bolts, she takes off. She has favorite places she likes to go,” Kizer said.

He worked closely with Stonington’s Human Services Director, Leanne Theodore, to create the program and got significant input from the town’s Autism Parent Support Group and the Geographic Information System (GIS) vendor.

CASS is part of the town’s GIS system, but all of the information is password protected and only accessible to authorized users.

The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities awarded Stonington Wednesday with a Municipal Excellence Award for the system. Kizer believes it’s the first of its kind.

The town also received a $1,000 check from Halloran & Sage LLP, a law firm that sponsors the CCM Municipal Excellence Awards.

Stonington resident Crystal Wilcox is in the process of signing her 21-year-old son, Billy, up for the program. She remembers the time Billy almost came in contact with a Stonington police officer.

“The police officer got out of the car. He was not aware. And Billy was screaming and carrying on,” Wilcox said.

It could have been a potentially turbulent situation if Wilcox didn’t step in and tell the cop her son had autism and that she’d handle the situation.

Stonington’s dispatchers and first responders are now being trained to use CASS.

“Having triggers, calming methods and things like that, that might be provided to us while we’re responding, will be critical,” said Capt. Todd Olson with Stonington Police.

Town officials said the only push-back is that some families are hesitant to sign up because they believe there’s a stigma that comes with it.

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