Laura Moeller and other parents of autistic children shared a victory this week after New York State approved road signs to alert motorists that a child with autism resides nearby.
The issue came to light during the summer of 2019 when parents in Lancaster, Hamburg and Amherst requested municipal officials post warning road signs to alert motorists of children with autism.
“Although some municipalities had erected the signs warning of children with autism in the area, others like Lancaster and the Village of Hamburg had refused to do so because the signs were technically illegal,” said Assemblywoman Monica P. Wallace, D-Lancaster.
The Town of Amherst in 2019, went ahead and installed a "Child with Autism Area" sign with Supervisor Brian Kulpa explaining it was in the best interest of the residents.
State regulations were recently amended to allow for the signage if the following conditions exist: the child with autism is under the age of 18, the average daily traffic volume is less than 2,000 vehicles, the speed limit is 35 mph or less, and the roadway is residential.
Autism is a developmental disorder characterized by difficulty in social interaction, communication and by restricted or repetitive patterns of thought and behavior. The condition is now called autism spectrum disorder because of its range of symptoms.
Children with autism may dart in the street without warning, said Moeller, who wrote a letter to Lancaster Mayor William Schroeder to request signage. Moeller’s campaign for street signs to alert motorists about the wide-ranging symptoms that children with autism experience was rooted in her young son, Cameron, who is on the spectrum.
“We currently have three locks and alarms on all of our doors, not to keep people out but to keep Cameron in,” wrote Moeller in her letter. “He doesn't have any regard for safety and will not hesitate to run across the street.
“It isn't about us not watching our kids, but they are pretty motivated when they want something. There are nights where Cameron wakes up at 11 p.m. and is up the remainder of the night. When we hear the chair slide across the floor, we know he is trying to get out, leading to many sleepless nights for our family to be sure he is safe,” Moeller wrote.
DOT Regional Director Frank Cirillo participated with Assemblywoman Wallace & Assemblyman Ryan to announce guidance for the use of the ‘Child with Autism’ sign panel to warn motorists to use extra caution in areas where children with autism live & play pic.twitter.com/L6qVmJjORo
— NYSDOT Western NY (@NYSDOTBuffalo) March 6, 2020
Moeller founded Buffalo Autism Project to support other parents of autistic children and to raise awareness about the disorder.
Several municipalities throughout the country have instituted policies to deal with similar requests for road signs.
In 2014, autism signs were added to the list of approved caution signs in Racine, Wisc. Under the policy, families were required to pay the city between $100 and $200 to create and post the signs.
In Seminole County, Fla., parents are required to include a letter from their child’s physician with their application for a safety warning zone sign.