Mich. Senate bills to help people with autism, hearing loss interact with LE
The bills allow for a special voluntary designation to be included in the Law Enforcement Information Network
LANSING, Mich. — When Xavier DeGroat got pulled over for going over the speed limit in Lansing five years ago, it wasn’t long before the flashing lights of the police car and the interaction with law enforcement gave him severe sensory overload anxiety.
DeGroat, the founder and CEO of the Xavier DeGroat Autism Foundation, has autism, and he said the stress of the situation made it difficult for him to communicate with the officer or provide required documentation in a timely manner.
“The police did not know, the police would not imagine just by looking at me,” he said.
DeGroat’s experience helped inspire bills passed unanimously in the Michigan Senate last week that would let drivers with autism or hearing loss voluntarily disclose a “communication impediment designation” to the Secretary of State when obtaining a driver’s license or registering their vehicle.
Under Senate Bills 278 and 279, people interested in the designation would provide a certification from their doctor or healthcare provider to the Secretary of State. The information wouldn’t be public, but would appear on the Law Enforcement Information Network, a computer system used by police during traffic stops.
The legislation is meant to ease the burden of communication with law enforcement for people with autism and hearing loss and better prepare officers for the interaction, bill sponsor Tom Barrett, R-Charlotte, said on the Senate floor.
Barrett credited DeGroat for his work on the bills, calling him a “tireless advocate” for people with autism.
If the bills pass the House and are signed by the governor, Michigan would be one of the first states to offer the designation option for people with communication impediments. Kentucky and Texas have already implemented similar legislation.
DeGroat is hopeful the legislation will pass in Michigan and help law enforcement better prepare for interactions with people with autism, especially when they first approach the person: “The first 30 seconds of police interaction is the most important,” he said.
He said officers leaving space between themselves and the person they’re speaking with, lowering the brightness of police lights and speaking in a quiet, calm tone can help make the situation easier for people with autism.
DeGroat is also taking his efforts to the federal level - he said he recently met with President Donald Trump about ways to improve interactions between people with autism and federal law enforcement.
“It’s a start to my movement for autism rights,” he said.