The Gloucester Police Department has found a new way to mark April as Autism Autism Awareness Month.
Most years, officers "“light it up blue” but this year the department is partnering with the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism.
Throughout April, the department is selling its signature Gloucester Police autism patch featuring the department's Kops N Kids logo and community resource dog, Ace.
By selling patches, the department is working to increase autism awareness throughout the city and raise money for the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism, which provides financial assistance for families caring for a loved one with autism and educates the public about autism spectrum disorder.
"We are proud to work with the Flutie Foundation and increase awareness in our community," police Chief Ed Conley said.
The vision of the Flutie Foundation is a world where all “people with autism lead productive lives where they are included, respected, and actively engaged in their communities,” according to the organization’s website.
Doug Flutie, a Massachusetts native, was a star quarterback with Boston College in the 1980s and later played professionally with the New England Patriots and other teams. He and wife Laurie started the foundation for autism after their son Doug Jr. was diagnosed with a very rare autism spectrum childhood disorder when he was 3 years old. At that time, few services were available for autistic children and their families.
Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and non-verbal communication, as well as by unique strengths and differences. Research has revealed there is not just a single form of autism, but many types caused by combinations of genetic and environmental influences, according to the Autism Speaks website.
The term “spectrum” reflects the wide variation in challenges and strengths possessed by each person with autism, according to the organization.
"The Flutie Foundation is grateful to work with wonderful community partners, like Kops 'N' Kids and the Gloucester Police Department to help people and families with autism in their town," the Flutie Foundation posted on its Facebook page. "Through police patch fundraisers, like these, and with the help of Ace, we hope to increase autism acceptance in local communities."
The foundation helped the department purchase Ace. The dog has been part of the Gloucester force since November 2020 and has provided comfort and help to de-escalate school-based conflicts and situations concerning children in need, primarily those with ADD, ADHD, who are on the autism spectrum or have other behavioral problems.
Gloucester Police's Community Impact Unit also plans to have Ace visit Alzheimer's patients at local nursing homes and senior centers, including the Rose Baker Senior Center.
Blue is the globally recognized color for Autism Awareness Month. Internationally, people recognize Autism Awareness Day on April 2 by wearing blue clothing or displaying blue lights at their homes and businesses.
Material from staff writer Jill Harmacinski was used in this report by Taylor Ann Bradford, who can be reached at 978-675-2705 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
HOW TO HELP
An Ace autism backpack patch may be reserved for purchase by dropping off or mailing a check made out to "Gloucester Fund" with a self-addressed return envelope to:
Community Impact Unit,
186 Main St. Suite 23
Gloucester, MA 01930
Each patch is $10 or three for $25.
More information on the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism is available at flutiefoundation.org.