Police Department shines a light on autism

Apr 29, 2021 by

Published April 28, 2021


LYNNFIELD — The Police Department’s autism awareness programs that were launched this month have been incredibly successful.

Robin Road resident Susan Parziale reached out to Interim Police Chief Nick Secatore last month in order to inquire if the Police Department would be interested in participating in the Autism Patch Program. The fundraiser seeks to raise awareness during Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month in addition to raising money for Northeast Arc’s Autism Support Center.

“Towns such as Reading and Stoneham have had great success with the program during Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month, and I wanted my town to participate,” said Parziale. “Sgt. Christopher DeCarlo jumped on board and said the Police Department would be glad to participate. They ordered 300 patches, and I was absolutely thrilled.”

DeCarlo worked with Parziale and Housing Authority Executive Director Dan MacIntyre, who helped the Police Department launch the ERIN program several years ago, in order to get the Autism Patch Program off the ground.

“I was happy to help out,” said DeCarlo. “Susan, Dan and I took a team approach, and launched a number of community initiatives in support of the program and Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month.”

DeCarlo said the community got behind the program even before it was launched.

THE LYNNFIELD AUTISM AWARENESS CAR PARADE on April 24 was made possible by, from left, North Shore Old Car Club Vice President Ed Green, autism advocate Susan Parziale, Firefighter/EMT Chris Cavalieri, Firefighter/EMT Nicholas Holmes, Firefighter/EMT Ignazio LaFauci, Patrolman Michael Topping, Patrolman Jonathan Santos, Luca Materazzo, Nico Materazzo, Police Sgt. Jared Provost, Patrolman Bryan Materazzo, Lynnfield Moms Group President Kimberlee Kossover Hansen and Housing Authority Executive Director Dan MacIntyre. (Dan Tomasello Photo)

“We live in a great community and we have had a great response,” said DeCarlo. “We announced the program before April 1, and we sold almost 100 patches before the program started. David Morales, who is the general manager of UniCare, reached out and donated patches for the campaign to help raise money. We had people from Alabama and Georgia buy patches. We have received a ton of support. It was beyond what we expected”

Secatore agreed.

“This program has been a great success,” said Secatore “Sgt. Chris DeCarlo and Patrolman Jon Santos organized everything, and turned it into the program it became. We have received incredible feedback. It has been a larger success than we thought.”

The Autism Patch Program raised over $3,200. The funds will be donated to Northeast Arc’s Autism Support Center.

“All of the funds raised will go toward anything families need whether it’s simple things such as clothing as well as different programs that provide assistance,” said DeCarlo. “We made it very specific to make sure that the money goes where it should.”

In addition to launching the Autism Patch Program fundraiser, the Police Department hosted three events in order to raise autism awareness. The Police and Fire Departments partnered with the North Shore Old Car Club in order to host the first annual Lynnfield Autism Awareness on Saturday, April 24. Over 30 cars participated in the inaugural event.

“I am so happy that it turned out incredibly well,” said Parziale. “There were so many cars that participated and we received so much support from the community. I want to thank the Lynnfield Police Department, the Lynnfield Fire Department and the Lynnfield Moms Group for coming out and being part of the parade. It was a great day.”

MacIntyre agreed.

“I want to thank everyone in the town of Lynnfield for their support for Autism Awareness and Acceptance Month in April,” said MacIntyre. “I want to thank Ed Green and the North Shore Old Car Club, the Lynnfield Fire Department and Chief Glenn Davis, and the Lynnfield Police Department and Interim Chief Nick Secatore for supporting the autism community. We appreciate that the Lynnfield Moms Group got involved. We really appreciate feeling included in the Lynnfield community.”

MacIntyre said first responders and the autism community is looking forward to next year’s parade.

“We are looking forward to having more participants next year,” said MacIntyre. “Moving forward, we will welcome any group who wants to participate in the Lynnfield Autism Awareness Car Parade. Decorate a car or not, come on down and join the fun.”

Parziale recalled that the Police Department held a Light Up Blue event on April 2, which occurred on World Autism Day. All of the police cruisers lit up their light bars in order to raise awareness during the event.

“All of the kids loved the Light It Up Blue police cruiser lights,” said Parziale. “The autism community got to know each other just a little bit more that evening.”

Parziale also noted that the Police Department held the Coffee with a Cop event at MarketStreet Lynnfield on April 17.

“Coffee with a Cop was a great day for education,” said Parziale. “Parents were asking the police questions about their training for dealing with a child or adult with autism. I have had a few young parents in Lynnfield reach out to me for assistance with guiding them in the right direction for services and evaluations for their newly diagnosed child. Some people came over to the tent just to see what was going on, and it brought the opportunity to educate the community about autism. Everyone who stopped by bought a patch.”

Parziale thanked Panera Bread for donating bagels, coffee, muffins and pastries for the event.

“Each person also thanked the Police and Fire Departments for their service to the town,” Parziale added.

DeCarlo said he and the rest of the Police Department enjoyed participating in the three community events.

“The idea was to make each event as inclusive as possible,” said DeCarlo. “We didn’t want to do anything where it would be difficult for families to show up. The events were pretty successful. The officers enjoyed participating in them.”

DeCarlo said the Police Department will be partnering with UniCare in order to host an insurance informational webinar next month.

“It’s going to be a soup-to-nuts informational webinar for families,” said DeCarlo. “It will be designed to help families know what resources are available to them.”

Parziale said autism awareness is incredibly important to her and her family.

“My daughter was diagnosed with autism when she was 2,” said Parziale. “At the time, the ratio for autism was one in 166 children. Today, that number is one in 54 children. Although the number of children diagnosed with autism is increasing, many people still do not know much about autism. I believe my role is to educate, bring awareness and acceptance to raise understanding and patience. Children and adults with autism have behaviors that are different, and I want people to understand that these types of behaviors are their way of communicating, even if the behaviors do not make sense to them. If I manage to help one person understand what someone with autism experiences or how that person might communicate, I have done my job as an autism mom.”

DeCarlo said autism is incredibly important to him and the rest of the Lynnfield Police Department.

“It’s important to know what to look for when dealing with someone who has ASD,” said DeCarlo. “We want to make sure we are responding appropriately when we go on calls for service. In addition to this program, the ERIN Program is very important to us. And on a personal level, there are families who are just starting out who don’t know what to look for. This is just one way we can show our support.”

Parziale noted that Autism Awareness Patches can still be purchased.

“Sgt. DeCarlo ordered more patches because the demand is so high,” said Parziale. “Each patch is $10. Because of COVID restrictions, Sgt. DeCarlo is mailing all of the patches. If you would like to purchase a patch, please mail or drop off your $10 check along with a self-addressed stamped envelope to the Lynnfield Police Department. The check should be written to the Northeast Arc Autism Support Center. The address for the Lynnfield Police Department is 55 Summer Street, Lynnfield, MA 01940, ATTN: Sgt. DeCarlo.”

DeCarlo said he is looking forward to growing the autism awareness program next year.

“We are going to hold other patch programs and other community events in the future once things improve on the COVID front,” said DeCarlo.

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