Abingdon group improving communications with special needs community


On Thursday evening, the Abingdon Autism Support Group met at the Pleasant View United Methodist Church with one goal in mind. That goal was to improve the communication between the special needs community and law enforcement, emergency services and even local meteorologists.

Shawn Roark is a volunteer firefighter with the Glade Spring Fire Department, so he knows how the lights and sirens can have more of an effect on those with special needs. He wants nothing more than to bridge the gap between emergency personnel and those with special needs.

He tells News 5, "There's been a gap there. One group doesn't understand the other. So we're just going to bridge that gap...bring them together and make them whole."

To a mother like Brandi Lester, that's music to her ears. "That makes us feel better. It makes us feel more secure that our kids will be taken care of if something were to happen, and that the situation would be responded to correctly."

This adds comfort to the pre-existing fear of not knowing how a child with special needs might react in an emergency situation.

Glade Spring Police Chief Ricky Stumbo says that while there's no formal training for law enforcement in his jurisdiction - he did have a suggestion. He says that if a family has an incident involving someone with special needs to tell the 911 operator, "so we know before we get there that we can better address the situation."

Getting that formal training, however, is one of the things that was discussed in Thursday night's meeting. Shawn Roark told the group that in Indiana, all of law enforcement must have training in special needs before being able to respond.

In addition to law enforcement and emergency services, the group expressed interest in improving communications with meteorologists. The reason for that is so that meteorologists can communicate how to handle severe weather situation, so as to avoid any sudden shifts in behavior.

If you know someone or are family with some of special needs, we'd like to hear from you. Let us know how we can better communicate severe weather information and impacts. You can email me directly at