Autism identification cards facilitate interactions with law enforcement

A example of an autism ID card // Courtesy UM Media
A example of an autism ID card // Courtesy UM Media
A example of an autism ID card // Courtesy UM Media

Pacing back and forth and avoiding eye contact might appear to be suspicious behavior, but for teenagers and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), this behavior is a natural response to stressful situations.

Now people with ASD can present themselves as such by using identification cards.

The University of Miami Center for Autism and Related Disabilities (CARD) partnered with the Coral Gables Police Department and the Disability Independence Group (DIG) to create these ID cards.

One practical use of the ID cards is for teenagers or adults with ASD who get pulled over while driving. With the help of the ID card, police officers will be able to know why the person may not be making eye contact.

It can be useful for other emergency or high-stress situations, too.

“Instead of waiting for a misunderstanding, they can just show their wallet card,” said Diane Adreon, the associate director of UM-CARD. “We’re just trying to do what we can to help people with autism interact with police officers.”

DIG and CARD partnered with the Coral Gables Police Department to come up with a card that could benefit both police officers and someone with autism.

Once pulled over, drivers would hand the officer the ID card along with their driver’s licenses. The card uses language that is supposed to be easily understood by both parties.

The idea came about after CARD had some instances where young adults with autism were being arrested for exhibiting suspicious behavior, when in fact, they were responding with behavior that is characteristic of ASD.

“We decided to come about with a Miranda rights training,” said Deborah Dietz, executive director of DIG. “We’re trying to learn to problem-solve and not get to the point of being arrested.”

During the training, people with ASD were taught about their rights so that they will know what to expect if they are pulled over by an officer.

The card features a bio-dot section, which allows drivers with autism to show how they are feeling, by pointing to one of four options: relaxed, calm, nervous or tense.

“Our intent is to provide this as a tool as a benefit for people who have it,” Dietz said.

In an effort to create awareness about ASD, the free ID card service won $5,000 in a philanthropy competition. Philanthropy Miami’s 2014 Shark Tank was held in March as a competitive showcase of new ideas for strategic partnerships in Miami-Dade’s nonprofit community.

To help explain the purpose of the project, CARD is creating a video that highlights three different scenarios in which teenagers and adults with ASD can utilize their ID card.

The video will include an adult at a traffic stop, another waiting at a bus stop and a third at a convenient store. It will be used as a training video for those who don’t know how to use the card and to raise awareness about the behavior of people with ASD. The details for the video’s premiere have not yet been released.

A few dozen ID cards have been distributed since the launch of this project, Adreon said. The goal is for national autism organizations to help promote usage of the card to those who can benefit from it.

“We’re hoping to not only do our local job, but our national one,” she said.


The CARD center will be hosting a workshop for teens and adults with ASD, along with their parents to learn about their legal rights and strategies for increasing the likelihood of positive interactions with law enforcement professionals. For more information, contact the CARD center at 305-284-6563.