New law protects people with communication challenges in situations involving law enforcement

SAN ANTONIO – A new law aims to protect people with communication challenges, such as autism or Asperger’s, before they get pulled over by a law enforcement officer.

Samuel Allen, co-founder of the nonprofit Asperger’s 101, was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome when he was 10 years old. The disorder is under the autism umbrella, which can affect a person’s ability to communicate or socialize.

“I would act different from the other kids, and we didn't know why,” Allen said. “I didn’t want to make friends. I just wanted to be by myself.”

Allen is now 24 and has conquered most of his Asperger’s symptoms. He drives, works for the technology department at H-E-B and is very high functioning.

He is also the reason behind a law that went into effect this week — the Samuel Allen Law.

The law protects anyone with a communication challenge such as Asperger’s when getting pulled over by a police officer.

“We wanted to ensure that people who need this safeguard  — we wanted to make sure that they had this form of protection,” Allen said.

A person diagnosed with a communication challenge now has the option to disclose their impediment when registering their vehicle with the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.

Once registered, a code will be placed into a statewide law enforcement computer system that will alert the officers when they scan the license plate of the driver's car before walking up to the driver.

Allen’s mother, Jennifer Allen, who co-founded Asperger’s 101 with her son, said an officer knowing about a driver’s condition before he or she approaches the car is crucial. She said someone like her son could have a reaction to the officer’s presence, which could lead to a major miscommunication.

“They can appear to be maybe intoxicated or on drugs or maybe just suspicious behavior when in fact it's just how they are wired,” Jennifer Allen said.

There are several challenges that qualify as a communication impediment, including autism, Asperger’s syndrome, Parkinson's disease and deafness.

Jennifer Allen and her son worked to pass the Samuel Allen Law for several years. Through their nonprofit, they have been educating the community and law enforcement about signs of autism and Asperger’s for several years. She said this is a big step for people with those challenges.

“I get so excited to think about the possibilities and how we have come so far as a society to recognize what autism is,” she said.

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