FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — The Allen County Sheriff’s Department announced on Tuesday that it received new picture communication boards from the Autism Society of Indiana.

The purpose of the boards is to help first responders communicate with a person who may be nonverbal, have limited English skills, have autism or other disabilities or mental health issues. 

In a press release, Chief Deputy Troy Hershberger said “he believes the communication boards will truly make a difference for officers and their interactions with individuals in our community.”

With help from the Autism Society of America, grants, and private donations, the Autism Society of Indiana hopes to provide a communication board that can be placed in the vehicles of all first responders and law enforcement in the state.

A shot of Cpl. Adam Griffith of the Allen County Sheriff’s Dept. holding a new picture communication board in Fort Wayne on 8/16/22.

The emergency communication boards are purchased by the Autism Society of Indiana from a company called Chileda.

Autism Society of Indiana board president Kristie Brown Lofland told WANE 15 they’re working daily to reach out to every county sheriff’s department, city police station, and all fire departments to see if they’d like to request the boards.

Lofland said Indiana State Police is one agency that has the boards and they’re excited that the Allen County Sheriff’s Department requested them.

“It’s always great when any department asks for that because we’re dedicated to making sure that the autism population and other people who have communication issues are able to have a way to communicate with our first responders,” Lofland said.

She added that when someone who has autism or a communication disorder has trouble communicating with a first responder, they may grow frustrated and show escalated behavior that can be misinterpreted.

“It’s extremely important that we have a way for not only that individual who’s struggling with communication to be able to communicate with first responders, but it is equally important for the first responders to be able to communicate with that person and help them to understand what they need,” Lofland said.

Corporal Adam Griffith of the Allen County Sheriff’s Department told WANE 15 that officers will run into scenarios where there are communication barriers more often than you might think.

He said he ran into a situation where he was able to use the board within days of receiving it.

Cpl. Griffith said a nonverbal 4-year-old left its home and was found a half a mile away. He said he was able to utilize the board to get the boy into the car and get him back to his grandparents’ house.

“He was able to utilize my board to point out the emergency services like the ambulance and a police car to keep him calm,” Griffith said.

The boards aren’t new to northeast Indiana.

In July, WANE 15 reported they were provided to the Auburn police department.

The idea to add the boards for Auburn Officers came after one of their own, Officer Kyle Woods, was seeking out ways to help his son who was diagnosed with autism.

“They’re almost like a pictograph,” Woods said. “They show pictures, for instance, of an ambulance, so you can say you are calling an ambulance. Or they show a picture of knee so someone can say their knee hurts. We can show them that we are going to the police station or we are going to a police car.”