I’m generally an optimistic person. But I always like to be aware of the potential downside of things — particularly when it concerns laws and regulations related to people on the autism spectrum. Which brings me to a law that went into effect this month in Virginia. As of July 1, Virginia drivers with autism, Asperger’s Syndrome or others on the autism spectrum can volunteer to have an autism code embedded on their driver’s license. Ditto for non-drivers who carry a state identification card.
The new law has raised concern among some drivers and disability advocates who worry about the potential for discrimination from law enforcement in the future.
The idea is that if stopped by law enforcement, displaying the card with the autism designation might keep police from misunderstanding any unusual behavior the person might display. My fear, however, is that a law meant for good could easily be used for ill. There’s no evidence that adults on the spectrum are better or worse drivers than the rest of the driving population — nor that they have more or less accidents. But the new law has raised concern among some drivers on the autism spectrum — as well as disability advocates — who are worried that they might face discrimination from law enforcement in the future if their licenses bear such a designation.
Fortunately JP’s Law, as it is sometimes called, is voluntary. It is up to the individual driver to opt-in. Pam Mines says her 9-year-old son with autism was the catalyst for her pushing Virginia lawmakers to adopt an optional autism code that could appear on state identification cards and driver’s licenses. For Mines, it was a pre-emptive strike in case her son ever encountered law enforcement and could not articulate his disability.