Metro Detroit nonprofit offers specialized autism training for police departments

Dearborn Heights Police Department just one participant of training

DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. – Downriver nonprofit MiMi’s Mission travels across Metro Detroit to help police and fire departments better respond to emergencies involving someone with autism.

They have 911 Ready Bags in about 25 police and fire departments. The bags feature items like noise-reducing headphones, weighted blankets, sensory noodles and more.

For the last several weeks, the nonprofit has been at Dearborn Heights Police Department to not only show them how to use the bags, but to make sure officers know the faces of autism.

Founder of MiMi’s Mission, Lisa Vilella said: “Autism training is effective, but to have eyes on these children is more effective. We’re here to say, they are extremely smart, they’re brilliant. It’s just how their brain works, and we have to approach it differently.”

She invited two families to be part of their training with Dearborn Heights Police on Friday -- Carrie Grube was one of them. She is a mom of three and has two sons on the autism spectrum. Her oldest has had interactions with police.

Read: 911Ready promotes autism awareness during emergencies in Brownstown and in Allen Park

“There’s a corner with a whole bunch of garbage cans and he was out there to mess around with them in two feet of snow, wearing Hawaiian shirt and then he was sticking his head in the snowbank and someone placed a welfare check and the police showed up and he ran,” Grube said. “It was just very scary for me that he ran from them.”

She said that’s why she made sure their family was at Friday’s class. “My son doesn’t fit in a PowerPoint presentation. You have to see him and that’s the best experience I can give,” Grube said.

Dearborn Heights Police Chief Jerrod Hart said with the help of Dearborn Heights Rotary Club and Family Doc Clinic and Urgent Care they’ve purchased 60 911 Ready Bags.

“I want one for each of our police vehicles and then I want a backup because when we use one, we want to replace what came out of that bag,” said Hart. “We don’t want to ever be without our tools.”

He said the bags just weren’t enough. Throughout the last several weeks all officers went through this autism training and met someone with autism. He believes it made a difference.

“That eye contact for police officers is very important. If somebody’s being evasive with us, those are signs for us that there could be deception here, when really that is just part of being with autism and we have to understand that,” Hart said.

It sends a bigger message to not just people who love someone with autism.

“This is just a commitment from us to constantly learn about our communities and engage in activities that are more likely to present a positive outcome,” said Hart.

For more information about MiMi’s Mission, visit their website by clicking here.

Also: Metro Detroit nonprofit gives first responders ‘911Ready Bags’ to help people with autism in an emergency

About the Author:

Megan Woods is thrilled to be back home and reporting at Local 4. She joined the team in September 2021. Before returning to Michigan, Megan reported at stations across the country including Northern Michigan, Southwest Louisiana and a sister station in Southwest Virginia.