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Illinois town erects new street sign near autistic boy's home to make neighborhood safer

The boy's mother believes the sign will help raise awareness among drivers and families who frequent the park across the street from their home.

Illinois town erects new street sign near autistic boy's home to make neighborhood safer
Cover Image Source: Facebook/Ali Harris

A small act of inclusivity is helping an Illinois family feel better about the safety of their 6-year-old son. Ali Harris of South Roxana constantly worries her son Kyren might run into traffic if she's not paying attention. The youngster, who has autism, finds cars incredibly fascinating. "We have a deadbolt on our door, but there's always a chance of something scary happening," Harris told TODAY Parents. "Kyren also loves to pick up rocks and dirt on the side of the road—dropping them on the ground like a sand timer calms him—and he won't understand if a car honks."



 

While brainstorming how she could make the neighborhood safer for her family, the 25-year-old figured an "autistic child area" sign near her house would help raise awareness among drivers and families who frequent the park across the street from their home. However, Harris found herself at a standstill as she didn't know how to go about making it happen. As fate would happen, the opportunity came seeking her two weeks ago, when South Roxana Police Chief Bob Coles visited the Fire-N-Smoke restaurant where she works.

"I get a group with a woman police officer from South Roxana (where we live) I take their order [and] give them their cups. And I let the guy paying know that the tab gets a 10% discount with a service member in his group and thanked her for her service! He then stated he was the chief in south Roxana," Harris wrote on Facebook.

Cover Image Source: Facebook/Ali Harris
Image Source: Facebook/Ali Harris

After chatting to him for a bit, Harris told him: "Do you know any kids with autism? I have a non-verbal kid and I wanted a street sign (for safety)." In her post, Harris revealed that Coles asked her more about where she lived and took down her address. A few days later, a bright yellow "Autistic Child Area" sign stood outside the home. Harris first saw the sign while driving back home from a road trip to Florida with Kyren and her fiance, Dillon. "I said, 'Oh my God — it's there!'" she recalled.

Explaining what prompted him to take such prompt action, Coles said: "I am a big fan of little acts of kindness." The father-of-three added that he also recognized a benefit to erecting the sign. "We had one domestic violence case involving a non-verbal child, and a sign would have helped (explain their behavior)," he said. While the signboard has helped Harris and her family feel safer and included, Margaret Nygren—the executive director and CEO of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities—cautions that whether these signs work is situational.



 

"It's tough to research this in an ethical way," Nygren said, adding that privacy laws could also play a part in discouraging signs of this nature. She pointed out that such signs may give false expectations of safety—especially if they aren't placed properly or a child runs into a different part of the road. And there's always the possibility that someone might ignore the sign. "In smaller communities where people know each other and are engaged in their neighborhood, the likelihood of compliance is higher," Nygren noted. "I applaud families who want to go the extra step (to protect their kids)." Although Harris is aware that the sign may not help all children with autism, she claims to have noticed slower traffic since the sign appeared. She is also grateful for another outcome for her family: "We finally feel included."

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