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Father works to get special needs registries at area police departments

Often helps children, adults with autism
Posted at 9:59 PM, Sep 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-09-11 23:37:27-04

One father's mission to keep his kids safe is now spreading across Milwaukee County. 

Joseph Morgano has identical twin boys who both have autism.

"A lot of them don't have a sense of danger, they're attracted to water," he said. "The number one cause of death in autistic individuals is drowning." 

Morgano says when his sons were diagnosed about a year and a half ago, he started researching everything about autism and came across special needs registries. 

But he learned there weren't that many available in Milwaukee County. 

"At that time, I believe the only two I saw were Oak Creek and Franklin," he said. 

Since then, he's helped get three more police departments on board including Glendale, Greenfield and West Allis. 

Hales Corners and Brown Deer are currently in the process of creating one and Morgano says Milwaukee Police is at the very beginning stages of creating a registry. 

Muskego Police and Waukesha Police also have special needs registries. Waukesha Police says it was likely one of the first in southeast Wisconsin. 

"Every jurisdiction would generate their own form," said Morgano. "In that form, it's de-escalation techniques, if they're non-verbal or verbal, areas they would frequent, their favorite places to go."

Each municipality has the forms available on its website. 

Deb Martinez says she has two children on the autism spectrum and recently put them both on a special needs registry. 

She especially worries about her older son, who is 21 but often gets aggressive when confronted. 

"My son will look very normal walking down the street until you approached him and tried to talk to him," she said. "It's very comforting [to be on the registry] because I know if I call them...they will know what he looks like and they'll know if they see him what he'll do." 

Morgano stressed that the registry is not just for those with autism, but any child or adult with special needs. 

"It could be schizophrenia, dementia, any kind of special needs, they can be registered," he said. "If I can help one person, that's my goal. Besides helping my own children, any family that has an autistic child, any special needs child or adult, if I can help one family then I've succeeded in my goal."

Morgano says if your town does not have a special needs registry, you can still contact police and offer information about your special needs relative that may help keep them safe. Many departments will then flag the address. 

Several police departments attended Dylan's Run this weekend to sign families up for their registries. The annual run benefits the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin, which helps support families with autistic relatives by offering support groups, and training opportunities. 

"We figure about half of the people with autism have wandered away from their parents," said Executive Director Emily Levine. "Sometimes wandering can be fatal which is why we have such a commitment to educating first responders."

In the future, Morgano hopes to see a countywide system in place in Milwaukee. 

For more information about the Autism Society of Southeastern Wisconsin, click here. 

Get more information on services for children with autism in Wisconsin here.

City of Waukesha - Special Needs Form