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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

New “Picture Communication Book” Helps Police Help People with Autism and Others

From NESCA

December 15, 2014

For Law Enforcement Professionals and Other First Responders to Better Communicate with People with Autism

NESCA’s Director of Behavioral Services Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA has produced a new “Picture Communication Book”, to assist law enforcement professionals and other first responders whose interactions with autistic individuals may be complicated by the difficulty some have in responding to, or with, spoken language.

It has already been enthusiastically embraced by the City of Newton, Massachusetts Police Department, which pointed out that the book will also be helpful to them in their contacts with others whose ability to communicate with them might somehow be compromised, including non-English speakers, disoriented or overwhelmed elderly people and intoxicated individuals.

They have placed copies in each of their 25 patrol cars.

Minahan has also volunteered to teach Newton police officers about autism and train them in effective use of the book.

NESCA plans to offset its costs by offering the book for sale to police and other agencies throughout the state and beyond. It may also be appropriate for others who often encounter people with autism, including, for example, school bus drivers.


As its name suggests, the Picture Communication Book employs graphical representations of common words, phrases and scenarios, such as “I’m lost”, “I need help” and “Where is your mom or dad?” Each of the illustrations is captioned in English and Spanish and can be quickly and easily displayed to the person being interviewed, enabling communication by pointing.

The book is organized by topic. It opens to a general information section, which describes how to use it, provides basic information about autism including important safety facts (“Many people with autism have little or no understanding of common dangers…”) and offers some useful tips on responding to someone with autism (“Officers should not interpret the person’s failure to respond to orders or questions as a lack of cooperation or a reason for increased force….”).

The illustrated sections, tabbed for easy access, relate to gathering information, giving information and identifying medical symptoms. Each includes between ten and 20 picture communication symbols, developed by Mayer-Johnson, LLC and used with permission. The book is printed on heavy stock for durability, and spiral bound so that it can be folded flat with its pages easily displayed.

While precise statistics are scarce, it appears that compared to the general population, people with autism are at increased risk of arrest, and that their contacts with police are often challenging, for themselves and the officers. Certain “stimming” behaviors such as hand-flapping, coupled with difficulty interpreting social cues and respecting personal boundaries, may even be perceived as threatening. It is hoped that the Picture Communication Book will help to defuse the tension, and prevent escalation, in such circumstances.

For additional information about, and to order, the Picture Communications Book, please contact Amanda Renzi at NESCA, by calling 617-658-9800 or email to arenzi@nesca-newton.com.

About Jessica Minahan, M.Ed., BCBA

Jessica Minahan is Director of Behavioral Services at NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents), in Newton, Massachusetts.

She is co-author, with Psychiatrist Nancy Rappaport, of The Behavior Code: A Practical Guide to Understanding and Teaching the Most Challenging Students, and author of The Behavior Code Companion. She blogs on The Huffington Post and in Responsive Classroom, consults to numerous school districts and is a speaker in high demand nationally.

Minahan holds a B.S. in Intensive Special Education from Boston University, and a dual master’s degree in Special Education and Elementary Education from Wheelock College. She has a certificate of graduate study (CGS) in teaching children with Autism from University of Albany, and received her BCBA training from Northeastern University.

Her additional Massachusetts and other professional certifications include Teacher of Students with Special Needs (Pre-K through 9), Intensive Special Needs (All Levels), Professional Early Childhood (Pre-K through 3), Special Education Administration (All Levels, Initial), Crisis Prevention Intervention Trainer and Wilson Reading Level 1.

Since 2000, she has worked with students who exhibit highly challenging behavior in both their homes and schools. She specializes in creating behavioral intervention plans for students who demonstrate explosive and unsafe behavior. She also works with students with emotional and behavioral disturbances, anxiety disorders and autism spectrum disorders.

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