Local mother starts organization to educate police officers on autism spectrum disorder
Christie Belle, a local mother in Savannah, started a nonprofit organization called Autism Rings Community Belle.
She has a son with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who had an encounter with a police officer a few months ago. The officer didn't know he was on the spectrum. She realized there was a need for law enforcement to be better educated on how to interact with children with autism and recognize the signs.
Belle planned an event in August for police officers to go into classrooms with autistic children to better understand their behavior. She’s now taking things a step further and started an organization to continue that conversation and act as an educational and supportive group for families.
“Our goal is to bridge the gap between individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and the community," said Belle.
Her son uses a communication device that’s like an iPad, that Christie fears could be mistaken for a weapon if a child with autism reaches for it around an officer.
Christie is having an Autism Symposium on Oct. 13 to discuss these concerns. Parents with autistic children and law enforcement are all welcome.
"We do understand that they have a lot on them being a police officer, but the fact that they're willing and open to learn, what they're doing for the autism community, we’re grateful," said Belle.
The organization is also a support group for families.
“We don’t want them to feel like they're the only ones. We've all been there and we want to reach out and help in any way we can,” said Belle.
They cater to parents and siblings. Belle said having a child with autism can be stressful on a marriage. Parents' typical developing child can be left out when all the attention is focused on the child on the spectrum.
Christie said anyone is welcome to come to the symposium.
“Let us know who you are in the community. I’m sure there are more children out there who are on the spectrum,” said Belle.
The Autism Symposium will be from 10 a.m. until noon at the Coastal Cathedral Church. It is free and you can get tickets on Belle's website.