HARLINGEN — Law enforcement officers perform traffic stops every day while on duty. In many ways, it is something that is second-nature to them.

However, officers might not always be prepared when handling a situation involving a child with special needs.

That’s why Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen has partnered with Down By The Border, along with various law enforcement entities, to serve as a registration and distribution site for vehicle decals to help identify vehicles in which a special needs child is riding.

The purpose of the initiative is to spread awareness throughout the Rio Grande Valley regarding the special actions that may need to be taken in situations involving these children.

It is also intended to specifically ensure police and other emergency personnel are educated and prepared to handle situations with these special needs children.

Sergio Zarate, Vice President and co-founder of Down By The Border is the father of a 17-year-old girl with Down Syndrome and Autism.

One of the parents in the support group mentioned to Zarate that in a period of two weeks recently, she was stopped by police three times.

“When she reached out to us, she mentioned that when she told the officers her daughter had autism, it seemed like they did not know what that meant or didn’t know much about it,” Zarate said.

According to Zarate, the parent was not sure about what needed to be done, but she felt training or education on the subject was needed for officers.

“That is when I invented this decal, so that we could alert law enforcement and first responders that a child with special needs might be in the vehicle,” Zarate said.

“That little girl that got pulled over with her mom is non verbal so with this decal we are giving her a voice. It’s a way of saying, hey guys I cannot respond to you because of this,” Zarate said.

The decals should be affixed to the rear of vehicles, specifically on the left side in order for law enforcement officials to see it as soon as the stop is made.

Zarate approached Valley Baptist about a month ago in order to begin partnering for the project, VBMC CEO Manny Vela said.

The hospital began working with Zarate to get involved with the organization ultimately to act as a distribution site for the decals during one-week periods in June and July.

“At Valley Baptist, we strongly believe that we have a responsibility to help members of our community live safe, happy lives,” Vela said.

“These decals will give officers who respond to various situations the opportunity to understand the circumstances they are entering into, creating a safer environment for everyone.”

Vela mentioned the initiative holds personal value to him.

He is the father of a young adult son with Asperger’s syndrome.

“I am extremely grateful to all participating law enforcement entities and Down by the Border for creating a safer environment for all involved,” Vela said.

“This is an incredible initiative that will help save lives, and Valley Baptist is truly honored to participate.”

Harlingen Police Chief Michael Kester is a strong supporter of the program, as well.

“I have never personally had to encounter a situation with a special needs child, but I think it is very important when we are going to a call or when we ask our dispatchers for details to know about this,” Kester said.

“With these stickers, it allows us to know that we need to be prepared beforehand when we approach the window or get to a home because we might not know how they will react to our presence.”

IF YOU GO

WHAT: Special needs decals are free of charge and available to anyone who is the parent of a child with special needs.

WHERE: Valley Baptist Medical Center-Harlingen East Tower Lobby

WHEN: From 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. through Friday, June 28.

Parents should bring a physician’s diagnosis of their child’s disability, as well as have the license plate number of their vehicle with them.

YOU SHOULD KNOW

Stickers are differentiated by colors

  • Blue: autism
  • Yellow: down syndrome
  • Purple: epilepsy
  • Green: cerebral palsy
  • Black: child is blind or deaf, or any other that does not apply the rest
  • They are designed to be both reflective at night and low visibility situations, as well as weather resistant.