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Recent Special “Autism” Code on Virginia Driver’s Licenses and ID Cards Goes into Law: Helpful or Discriminatory for Individuals on the Autistic Spectrum?

Ashburn, Virginia (PRWEB) July 11, 2014


On July 1st, Senate bill 367 took effect, which allows individuals with an intellectual disability or autism to have a special code placed on the back of their licenses and ID cards to alert law enforcement or first responders that they are dealing with someone with a condition. The idea was inspired by a central Virginia mother, Ms. Pam Mines, who wanted to be proactive in protecting her 9 year old autistic son, JP. During a news conference after the law passed, Ms. Mines asserted, “I really wanted to make sure that my son was protected in the event that a situation came about where he is faced with law enforcement and they’re not aware that he has autism.”

Just a few days into the law, Dr. Michael Oberschneider describes a very mixed response on it from his patients with autistic spectrum disorders. And within his outpatient therapy practice in Northern Virginia, he has already identified a trend in which adult and younger patients appear to have concerns about the law for themselves, while the parents of younger patients appear to be embracing it.

More specifically, several adults on the autism spectrum in Dr. Oberschneider’s practice have expressed fear that the law could become discriminatory for them. One adult patient shared, “Great, so if I get into an accident, who’s the cop going to believe, the guy with the autistic label or the guy without it?” And Dr. Oberschneider himself shares some of the same concern that JP's Law could also create moments for profiling or discrimination to occur. Dr. Oberschneider asserts, "Even though autism is more in the public eye today than ever before, that does not necessarily mean people understand it. To the contrary, I think many people still think of Rain Man or, more recently, the Sandy Hook Shooter, when they think of autism even though very few people on the autistic spectrum are savants or are homicidal and dangerous." Adequate education should, however, serve to dispel incorrect beliefs about autism for law enforcement agents.

As a psychologist who works a lot with patients on the autistic spectrum, Dr. Oberschneider reports first hand that driving is a very big deal for many of his patients. According to Dr. Oberschneider, driving is much more than following rules and knowing the laws, things he asserts individuals on the spectrum are generally pretty good at. For Oberschneider, however, driving is also a social act and one that requires focus, attention to detail, reading moments or cues, flexible or fluid thinking, and cooperation – ways of thinking and being that generally do not come easily to those on the spectrum.

Overall, Dr. Oberschneider believes the law is a very positive move in the right direction in that it should serve to increase both awareness and sensitivity for those with autism. He says, “The autistic population in our country has grown rapidly in the past two decades and will only become larger in the years to come. With education and tools, it is my hope that law enforcement would be less likely to misread an autistic individual’s behavior toward a negative outcome.” Instead, for Dr. Oberschneider, the autism code on licenses and ID’s will be very helpful for law enforcement to understand the true meaning of a given behavior or personal oddity and then act accordingly. What may appear to the lay person as unruliness or disrespect (agitation, poor eye contact and humming), for example, may actually be the signs and symptoms of someone with autism in a high stress situation and police officers need to know that difference.    

Per JP’s law, “It should be a personal choice for the individual to opt in to having a notification on their driver’s license,” and Dr. Oberschneider agrees with the law being a voluntary one. However, if you are a minor Dr. Oberschneider points out, your parents would likely have the final say on the decision, which may pose a potential problem for many teens on the autistic spectrum. “Some of my teenage patients on the autistic spectrum are still coming to terms with their diagnosis, and the identification of autism on their driver’s license could be too emotionally revealing and upsetting for them” Not surprising to Dr. Oberschneider, but several of his teen patients with high functioning autism in his practice have indeed voiced a strong position against having the label.

While JP’s Law as an idea is a positive thing in Dr. Oberschneider’s opinion, he believes that the decision to voluntarily participate in it is a very personal one. “This is not a one size fits all option or moment and much of the decision should be based on one’s level of functioning and need; there will be some on the autistic spectrum who will benefit from having the code on their license or ID card and others who will not require the additional attention. Dr. Oberschneider adds, “I also think other states are going to be watching the impact of this law closely and will likely follow suit.”

PRESS CONTACT: Michael Oberschneider, Psy.D., NCCE, NCPC, is a Clinical Psychologist and the Director of Ashburn Psychological and Psychiatric Services, a private mental health practice in Ashburn, VA. To learn more about Dr. Oberschneider and his approach to Autism diagnosis and treatment visit: or call (703) 723-2999.

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