Marlborough mom organizes ‘Community Unity’ event for kids with special needs
By Valerie Franchi, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – For parents of children with special needs, the fear of their child becoming lost or running away is ever-present. Many of those with autism cannot communicate clearly – if at all – or have behaviors that might cause injury to themselves or others.
Compounding the problem is the lack of understanding about autism by the public and first responders. One Marlborough mother is determined to help prevent this in her own community.
Rebecca Daugherty, a mother of three including 13-year-old Riley, diagnosed with autism, has collaborated with Terri Taylor, a member of the Marlborough Special Education Parent Advisory Council (SEPAC), to organize an event to bring autistic members of the community and their families together with the city’s firefighters, police officers and emergency medical technicians (EMTs).
“Community Unity,” a meet and greet with first responders, will take place Wednesday, April 5, at 6:30 p.m. in the 1Lt. Charles W. Whitcomb Middle School library.
Daugherty said the idea for the event stemmed from a couple of different places.
In July, a South Florida therapist was accidentally shot when police believed his charge, a severely autistic man, was threatening him with a gun. Even after repeated attempts to explain to the police the situation, they tried to shoot the autistic man, but shot the therapist instead, wounding him in the leg.
“This event showed me that, even though there is much more awareness of autism, people still don’t understand our children,” Daugherty said. “First responders receive training, but training can never replace meeting someone in person.”
Around the same time, Daugherty was thinking that she needed to update her file on Riley at the Marlborough Police Department. Like many police departments, Marlborough does not keep an electronic record of community members with special needs, but parents may leave a photograph and detailed information about their child in case of an emergency situation.
She began to think about better ways to educate local first responders about Riley and the children of others in the community, since each one is very different.
“If they know a child personally, they will learn how to approach them and deescalate a potential dangerous situation,” Daugherty explained.
Meeting in a non-emergency situation is also beneficial for the child with special needs.
“Personal connections are good for the kids and their safety. They will learn that first responders are there to help them,” she noted, “and will be less likely to be afraid or act aggressively toward them.”
Daugherty also hopes the event will create bonds in the community and civic organizations such as the local Boy Scouts and the Marlborough Junior Woman’s Club have been invited to participate. There will also be information booths highlighting available resources.
“Socially, we often feel very isolated,” Daugherty said. “I grew up in Marlborough and want to be part of the community. The feeling of someone getting you, you can’t replace it.”
In addition, Daugherty said, the staff of the Whitcomb School have been encouraging.
“We are very supportive of the event,” said Principal Brian Daniels. “We hope for a good turnout.”
Daugherty said she hopes to make “Community Unity” an annual event.
“Kids grow up; people move,” she noted, adding that it is important to keep first responders up to date on changes in their children’s abilities or behaviors.
She also hopes that other communities will use the event as a model for similar events throughout the region.
“I hope they see how meaningful and necessary it is,” she said. “I’m just a parent. Other people can do this; they can make a difference. It’s not just about us – it’s bigger than us.”
To join Daugherty’s Facebook group, search “Autism Resources, there is help out there so let’s find it together!”
Short URL: http://www.communityadvocate.com/?p=83941