Personal experiences inspire Norwood Police Dept. to raise autism awareness

NORWOOD, Mass. — April is Autism Awareness Month and for the Norwood Police Department, it has hit especially close to home and the department is now getting national interest in its fundraising efforts.

Statistics show one in 68 children have autism and for boys, the rates are even higher; one in 42 boys now have autism. That's the case for several members of the Norwood Police Department who have sons on the spectrum, so they found a small way to do their part to show their solidarity and raise awareness.

It's just a small blue puzzle piece, but if you know someone on the spectrum, you know it's the symbol for Autism Spectrum Disorder, and for the month of April, the Norwood Police Department is raising awareness by selling limited edition patches.

Officer Andrew Jurewich came up with the idea after his now 4-year-old son was diagnosed.

"It's meant a lot to me just knowing that first of all, building a connection with other people who have children with autism, they're coming in and saying thank you," said Jurewich.

The response has been overwhelming, not just from people in Norwood, but from families as far as Florida and California.

"I've received a lot of emails from officers across the country who have a family member with autism or they have some involvement in their community with a person with a disability so I think that's put a personal touch on selling these," said Jurewich.

It's also personal for recently retired Norwood Lt. Marty Baker, whose son Drew has autism. Baker now travels the state teaching officers how to react when they encounter an individual on the spectrum and often brings Drew with him.

"It shows people what autism looks like," said Baker.

Lt. Baker has been bringing the patches to the trainings and says several other departments have told him they'd like to have their own patches made up.

"There was an initiative a few years ago for an autism awareness license plate, but it didn't get enough people to sign on for it to become a reality so it's nice to see a little more attention," said Baker.

Their hope is it will spark a conversation and let families know the officers here are sensitive to the special needs of individuals on the spectrum.

"Police officers know how to keep me safe," said Drew Baker.

The patches are $5. You can pick them up 24/7 at the Norwood Police Department or email for more information. The proceeds will go to one of the several agencies in the Norwood area that serve the autism community.

RELATED: 'Virtual child' helping researchers to learn more about autism