Landon Withrow is a 12-year-old change maker. After applying for Louisa County’s Law Enforcement Adventure Program with a letter explaining fear of law enforcement as an autistic individual, the Louisa County Sheriff’s Office decided to create a program to help this.
“Many autistic people are scared of the police, including me,” Landon wrote in his letter.
“I think that I should be selected for the Law Enforcement Adventure Program not only to bridge the gap between autistic people and police, but also for me to be able to feel more comfortable around police. Here is one thing about autism, my autism affects the way my brain works causing me to think and process things differently than a typical human brain would,” Landon wrote.
The department decided to launch the Project First Responder in response to Landon’s letter.
Project First Responder allows families or caregivers to provide information about an individual. Stored in the Sheriff’s Office CAD system, all entries are confidential. This information will hopefully allow for an officer to be more informed about the individual they are confronting.
“I’m just hoping it will make it much easier for us to be able to encounter police and let’s hope we don’t need to if we do let’s hope that they can understand how to communicate with us and know what does and does not bother us,” said Withrow to WTVR Virginia.
The sheriff’s office says to WTVR, “Learning to interact with first responders is critical. It is just as essential for first responders to understand how to effectively deal with our citizens who are part of the autism, Alzheimer’s, Intellectual & Development Disabilities (AAIDD) community. This is the reason Louisa County Sheriff’s Office started Project First Responder; to begin to break the misguided communication between law enforcement and the AAIDD community. It is imperative that all entities involved learn to work together to make these interactions safe, successful and productive.”
Withrow’s honesty and confrontation of this issue is something to learn from.
“A lot of police know little about autism and that can be quite a problem because the officer could think that the autistic person is not listening or is refusing, or is being rude or mean. We aren’t. We just have trouble communicating with other people, understanding, and controlling our feelings,” Withrow shared.