Lincoln nonprofit spreads awareness about autism

Lincoln nonprofit spreads awareness about autism

Lincoln first responders and members of the nonprofit Public Safety Special Needs Coalition display autism awareness flags, which have been distributed statewide. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)

LINCOLN – A new flag can be spotted flying across the state marking Autism Awareness Month and encouraging acceptance.

The flags were created by the Lincoln-based Public Safety Special Needs Coalition, a nonprofit group formed in 2018 to encourage local police, fire, rescue and mental health professionals to provide education and resources to people with special needs and their families.

Since its inception, the PSSNC has educated first responders and held a number of sensory-friendly events for the community, including the first sensory-friendly touch-a-truck event, bowling with first responders, and a drive-thru trunk-or-treat.

Among the group’s activities, members have distributed sensory bags to first responders in Rhode Island and beyond filled with tools to help someone with autism or another intellectual disability who may be in crisis.

During the month of April, which is Autism Awareness Month, the PSSNC is supplying flags to emergency personnel and other groups across R.I. in partnership with Autism Society Rhode Island.

Chuck Karboski, co-founder of the PSSNC, said of the project, “I think we’re almost past awareness and really striving for acceptance of the autism community.”

One in 54 children in the U.S. was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) last year, according to the CDC.

Karboski said Rhode Island’s first responders have fully embraced the special needs community and PSSNC’s mission. “They want to help in any way they can,” he said. “It’s awesome to see and be a part of something like this.”

In addition to the Lincoln Police Department, an Autism Awareness flag is now flying at each of Lincoln’s fire and rescue stations, Rhode Island State Police headquarters, Cranston and Warwick Police Departments fire stations in Smithfield, Newport and East Greenwich, and Middletown Town Hall, among others.

While the pandemic impacted some of the group’s goals last year, members said they’re eager to continue their mission this year, starting with a fundraiser at J Gray’s Tavern on April 6.

On April 17, the group is planning a “Front Street Meet and Greet” event from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., inviting members of the community to meet local first responders and their vehicles at the rescue station at 224 Front St. in Lincoln.