NESCA has unexpected availability for Neuropsychological Evaluations and ASD Diagnostic Clinic assessments in the Plainville, MA office in the next several weeks! Our expert pediatric neuropsychologists in Plainville specialize in children ages 18 months to 26 years, with attentional, communication, learning, or developmental differences, including those with a history or signs of ADHD, ASD, Intellectual Disability, and complex medical histories. To book an evaluation or inquire about our services in Plainville (approx.45 minutes from NESCA Newton), complete our Intake Form.

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autistic drivers

Working to Make Traffic Stops for Autistic Drivers Less Stressful

By | NESCA Notes 2024

By Dot Lucci, M.Ed., CAGS
Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services, NESCA

Any driver who has ever cruised down a highway and suddenly sees flashing blue lights and hears the siren of a police car pulling up behind them knows that feeling of panic and dread – that immediate stress response that runs through your body. The internal questioning begins…What did I do wrong?, Was I speeding?, Did I not use my turn signal?, etc. The flight and fight response courses through our body. We pull over and wait while the officer gets out of their car and approaches. We know to keep our hands visible, wait patiently, and wait to be spoken to. These “unwritten rules” may not be specifically taught, but we just know to do them. Now, imagine for a moment that you are autistic and unwritten rules are difficult for you in general – never mind in this stressful situation. This situation is exacerbated in intensity by the very nature of their Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, which may lead to the driver experiencing difficulty with communicating, their ability to manage the stress of the situation, interacting as expected socially, and managing the total flooding of their sensory systems. If the driver is a minority and autistic, the stress may be further compounded.

Recently in Massachusetts, The Blue Envelope initiative was unanimously passed by both the House and Senate. This initiative assists autistic drivers in auto accident situations and traffic stops. While it is voluntary for police departments and autistic individuals to participate, the hope is that both groups will avail themselves of this potential to support and be supported in driving situations that arise. It is designed to make experiences like the one outlined above safer, and to ease communication between autistic drivers and police officers. The program began through a collaborative effort among autistic individuals, their parents, and multiple agencies and organizations, including the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, Massachusetts State Police, Advocates for Autism of Massachusetts, and The Arc of Massachusetts.

The Blue Envelope Program is literally based on a blue envelope that autistic drivers keep in their vehicle with their important papers inside (i.e., driver’s license, registration, insurance card, and a contact card). The Blue Envelope isn’t just an ordinary envelope to keep things organized. Rather, it’s meant to be a “life saver and game changer,” as it is specially designed to provide critical communication guidelines and support as well as other important information about ASD. The communication information is printed on the outside of the envelope, thus alerting the officer that they are interacting with an autistic person. Along with general information about ASD, the information in the envelope can be personalized –  since we know that each person’s strengths and challenges are never the same from one individual with autism to the next. Also included on the outside of the envelope are “instructions/guidelines” for the individual. The intent of this program, by alerting officers that they are interacting with an autistic individual, is so they may potentially modify their interaction approach and style; possibly averting the individual becoming escalated, leading to more serious encounter. The Blue Envelope Program is available in many states, including RI, CT, ME, NJ, PA, AZ, and CA. It is currently in use by the Massachusetts State Police and some local communities. The program also includes training for law enforcement officers on how to approach and interact with individuals should they have a Blue Envelope.

The Blue Envelope Program hopes to, “enhance understanding, reduce anxiety, streamline communication and encourage preparedness,” and create a “positive outcome” for all. There are tips for officers that include things like, “use simple, direct language, avoid idioms, be observant, allow drivers longer time to respond, and clearly tell the driver when the stop is done.” If signs of distress are visible, try to reduce sensory inputs (turning off flashlights, sirens, etc.). Tips for drivers include handing the officers the Blue Envelope and telling them you’re autistic, following instructions, and asking for clarification if they do not understand something the officer is saying. The general guidance remains to always keep your hands visible – on the steering wheel; and if you need to reach for anything, tell the officer what you are doing before doing it.

The goal of the Blue Envelope Program is to create an outcome that is safe, respectful, and positive for all parties involved in a traffic stop, whether it be an accident or a traffic violation. Its aim is that autistic drivers will feel safer, calmer, more secure, and less stressed during traffic stops and that the officer training will help them be more aware of whom they are interacting with, be more prepared, exhibit greater empathy, and be more patient when interacting with an autistic driver. It has the potential to be a win-win program for all involved.

If you would like to apply for a Blue Envelope in Massachusetts, visit: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/blue-envelope-program#tips-for-a-safe-traffic-stop-

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About the Author

NESCA’s Director of Consultation and Psychoeducational Services Dot Lucci has been active in the fields of education, psychology, research and academia for over 30 years. She is a national consultant and speaker on program design and the inclusion of children and adolescents with special needs, especially those diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Lucci was the Principal of the Partners Program/EDCO Collaborative and previously the Program Director and Director of Consultation at MGH/Aspire for 13 years, where she built child, teen and young adult programs and established the 3-Ss (self-awareness, social competency and stress management) as the programming backbone. She also served as director of the Autism Support Center. Ms. Lucci was previously an elementary classroom teacher, special educator, researcher, school psychologist, college professor and director of public schools, a private special education school and an education collaborative.

Ms. Lucci directs NESCA’s consultation services to public and private schools, colleges and universities, businesses and community agencies. She also provides psychoeducational counseling directly to students and parents. Ms. Lucci’s clinical interests include mind-body practices, positive psychology, and the use of technology and biofeedback devices in the instruction of social and emotional learning, especially as they apply to neurodiverse individuals.

To book a consultation with Ms. Lucci or one of our many expert clinicians, complete NESCA’s online intake form. Indicate whether you are seeking an “evaluation” or “consultation” and your preferred clinician/consultant/service in the referral line.

NESCA is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Plainville, and Hingham, Massachusetts; Londonderry, New Hampshire; the greater Burlington, Vermont region; and Brooklyn, NY, serving clients from infancy through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.