Thanks to A new law pushed by a Stone Oak mother and her son, police during traffic stops can now be alerted to drivers who have trouble communicating.
From a small office converted from a closet in her home, Jennifer Allen has worked tirelessly for the passage of the Samuel Allen Law, which took effect Sept. 1 to aid those with autism, deafness and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Named for her 23-year-old son Samuel “Sam” Allen, who helped promote the bill, it allows state motorists with conversational challenges to have their licenses coded, thereby informing officers before they address the person behind the wheel.
“It feels good that it has come to fruition,” Samuel Allen said. “There was a lot of red tape, but my mom and I have basically gone through this as a team, and we’ve never backed down.”
The Department of Public Safety, Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, statewide law-enforcement agencies, and dozens of other organizations hail the measure.
Mother and child wanted to create awareness about Asperger’s syndrome.
“What Jennifer has done is incredible. I think a team of a dozen people with high salaries would be high-fiving each other if they had accomplished as much,” said Jane Lynch, a pediatrician and professor at UT Health San Antonio who has known and aided Jennifer Allen for years.
It all began when Sam was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, a condition on the autism spectrum sometimes labeled “little professor syndrome” because children with it tend to form big words early on, and are often called geniuses, albeit with traits related to autism.
“Where there’s a challenge, there’s a gift,” Jennifer Allen said.
School took some work in terms of relating, but the family unified.
“I really loved the special-education department at North East (Independent School District),” she added. Allen shared her wisdom by spawning aspergers101.com, a website assembling autism experts and others providing helpful data. With Sam and his younger brother Charlie (not autistic), she produced an animated children’s series and a documentary.
When Sam started driving as a teen, he and his mom created a Driving with Autism statewide initiative to include a special code on drivers’ licenses: “Communication Impediment with a Peace Officer,” along with information distributed in DPS offices.
To educate police on how to handle such encounters, she and Sam spent hundreds of hours training DPS troopers and peace officers. Recently, Police Chief William McManus credited the Allens for giving his force the tools to defuse a recent threatening situation with an autistic teen.
The next logical step was the legislation, which provides background about communication problems to the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System – a database police access before making traffic stops.
McManus said the law will “provide officers with critical information by alerting law enforcement of impediments such as autism, Asperger’s, PTSD or more, prior to approaching the vehicle.”
For Sam, an H-E-B information-solutions specialist, the eponymous measure adds a level of security.
“I do feel more comfortable driving now, but anyone who understands the safety net of this red-flag system – people with deafness, stutterers, different people – share the danger of miscommunication with an officer,” he said.
Texas is the first to enact such a law, but many predict probably not the last.
For years, Ron Lucey, executive director of the Texas Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities, has admired and assisted the Allens. Now, he’s collaborating with them to share the entire package of Driving with Autism laws, policies, practices and training nationwide.