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How to improve communication between police and drivers with autism — with a blue envelope

Car driver hands over her Blue Envelope to the patrol officer during the traffic stop exercise.jpg
Brian Scott-Smith
/
WSHU
Car driver hands over her Blue Envelope to the patrol officer during the traffic stop exercise

A traffic stop exercise over the weekend helped train better communication between Connecticut police officers and drivers on the autism spectrum.

It’s part of the state’s Blue Envelope Program. The envelopes contain the driver's insurance card, registration and driver license, so they can hand it to the officer during a traffic stop.

“The Blue Envelope is an envelope for officers to know that the person who is driving is on the autism spectrum,” said Lauren Huck, of Old Lyme, who participated in the exercise. “And for them to know that they may be nervous during the process. They treated me with respect and with ease and with calmness, and the person with autism and who is driving is more comfortable on the road.”

The program was created in 2020. The Police Chiefs Association of Connecticut worked with the state Department of Motor Vehicles and Southern Connecticut State University to help law enforcement and drivers with autism communicate better.

The goal is to avoid misunderstandings between the officer and the driver.

Drivers usually tell officers if they keep the envelope in either their glove box, visor or console. Once they hand over the envelope, the driver and officer can follow tips and instructions on how to communicate with each other.

The instructions warn the driver that the officer might have a radio and flashing lights on their car, which can be disruptive for people with autism. The envelope also directs the driver to keep their hands on the steering wheel — even if the officer is not by their car.

The training prepares police officers for some behaviors the autistic driver might exhibit, including repetitive body movements and signs of high anxiety. The envelope also instructs police to allow the driver extra time to respond, to simplify their requests, and to clearly tell the driver when they may leave.

Groton Chief of Police Louis Fusaro said this training exercise is essential for everyone.

“There are many programs that we do collectively to help our officers but also to help society and make sure they understand why we’re doing our job the way we do it,” Fusaro said.

The blue envelopes — and green envelopes for people who are deaf or have hearing loss — are available at local DMV offices and police stations across Connecticut.

An award-winning freelance reporter/host for WSHU, Brian lives in southeastern Connecticut and covers stories for WSHU across the Eastern side of the state.