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St. Bernard's 'Help Me Home' program aims to help residents with autism

According to the CDC, one-in-every-36 children in the US is diagnosed with autism. Roughly one-third of them are non-verbal.

CHALMETTE, La. — When police officers encounter someone with autism, the situation can get complicated, but a program in St. Bernard Parish is helping deputies meet the needs of residents with disabilities.

It's called "Help Me Home." It's a registry where families can put in information on their loved ones with disabilities. That information is then put into a database that St. Bernard Parish deputies can access in the field.

Melinda Luna put her son on the registry when it opened in 2022.

"You hear a lot of sad stories, and that's something I don't want for my child," she said.

Her son Logan was diagnosed with autism at two years old. 

"He's very bright but has no awareness of danger," Luna said.

Signing up is easy. You can go to the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Office or visit their website here and put in information that could help police help your loved one. They ask for information about their disability, a description of what they look like, along with a recent photo and emergency contact information.

"It's never been more important than today that this resource be provided," Danny Dysart, president of the St. Bernard Autism Awareness Krewe, said.

Dysart and the St. Bernard Autism Awareness Krewe worked with SBSO to create the "Help Me Home" program.

"We haven't had a program like this in Louisiana that we were aware of, and so, we looked around, and there was a program that started out of Pensacola, Florida, and we thought that this would be a tremendous resource," Dysart said.

According to the CDC, one-in-every-36 children in the US is diagnosed with autism. Roughly one-third of them are non-verbal, meaning they likely couldn't communicate with a first responder if they need help.

But thanks to "Help Me Home," parents like Luna know that police will still be able to help her son if he ever needs it.

"That helps put my mind at ease," she said. "I mean, we know they're little escape artists, right?"

If you have questions about the "Help Me Home" program, the St. Bernard Autism Awareness Krewe is putting on an Autism Awareness and Acceptance Family Resource Event on Sunday, April 16. For more information, click here.

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