Blue Envelope Program supports neuro-diverse drivers

By Beth Negus Viveiros
July 1st, 2024
Maura K. Sullivan, deputy executive director of The Arc of Massachusetts.
Maura K. Sullivan, deputy executive director of The Arc of Massachusetts.

Mass. latest state to implement measure

In April, Massachusetts became the latest state to implement the Blue Envelope Program, an initiative to improve communications between individuals on the autism spectrum and police officers.

The envelopes—available at state and local police barracks—are designed to hold all the information a driver would need to provide during a traffic stop, including their license, registration, and a contact card, should the driver need to call someone.

The exterior of the envelope identifies the driver as a person with autism spectrum disorder, and offers instruction for police on ways to help reduce stress and anxiety for the driver. It also lists guidance for drivers on how to present the Blue Envelope to an officer, and what they should expect if they are involved in an accident or traffic stop.

The envelopes—available at state and local police barracks—are designed to hold all the information a driver would need to provide during a traffic stop, including their license, registration, and a contact card, should the driver need to call someone.

The envelopes—available at state and local police barracks—are designed to hold all the information a driver would need to provide during a traffic stop.

Training both on how to use the envelopes and how to work with individuals on the autism spectrum is being put into place for existing officers and cadets, said Maura K. Sullivan, deputy executive director of The Arc of Massachusetts, one of several advocacy groups that partnered to bring the program to the state.

“We’re going to see the impact very quickly. There is so much that officers need to understand before they are onsite, not only in cars, but in the community and before they enter homes,” said Sullivan, adding that the program is completely voluntary. “Many autistic drivers may feel they don’t need to disclose their condition, and that’s okay.”

In January, the Massachusetts Senate passed legislation to create the program. While the bill is still sitting in the state’s House Ways and Means Committee, advocates and law enforcement moved forward with the initiative, backed by the Governor’s office. Thousands of blue envelopes have already been distributed, said Sullivan.

“We’re going to see the impact very quickly. There is so much that officers need to understand before they are onsite, not only in cars, but in the community and before they enter homes.” -- Maura K. Sullivan, deputy executive director, The Arc of Massachusetts

The Marion Police Department in Massachusetts introduced its own version of the Blue Envelope Program in January. Lauren Roberts, administrative assistant/records access officer, said the response from both the community and officers has been positive.

“It has improved our response in instances where we are communicating with a person on the spectrum. Hand-flapping, body rocking, or repeating certain phrases —common behaviors of those on the spectrum—can be misinterpreted,” said Roberts. “This program acknowledges and mitigates these behaviors by giving officers the added knowledge and tools in communicating effectively and with more understanding.”

The Blue Envelope Program began in Connecticut in 2020. Sara Taussik is program and training administrator for Autism Services and Resources Connecticut at the Clifford Beers Community Health Partners.

She said the feedback there has also been favorable.

“Officers are grateful for the tool, because autism can present so differently in different individuals,” she said. “An untrained officer may think a person is under the influence or having a mental breakdown, when in reality it is a heightened internal state and anxiety and stimulation. [The blue envelope] really takes the guesswork out of the situation.”

After getting an envelope, an officer can take steps such as turning off their lights or turning down the chatter on their radios, to help put a driver more at ease, she said. The envelope plays a key role in averting communication breakdowns between officers and individuals on the spectrum.

“I know of one young man who was in a fender bender and panicked,” said Taussik. “Had the blue envelope not been introduced and explained to him by his mother, he probably would have left the scene. He handed over the envelope and the officer was able to de-escalate the situation.”

“Accommodations like the Blue Envelope are essential for the autism community and enhance communication between a police officer and a driver with autism spectrum disorder,” said Tony Guerrera, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles.

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