“You can never be too safe” – Marshall Co. mom wants autistic child awareness road signs

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MARSHALL COUNTY, Ala. -- A Tennessee Valley mom wants to see some change. It starts with her little son who is autistic and nonverbal, and it would end with state officials.

If Kari Whisenant's 7-year-old son Grayson could stay outside all the time, he would. He loves it, and every time Grayson is outside, so is his mom. "He was diagnosed at the age of three with a form of autism, which makes him have about a 2-year-old or under level," Whisenant explained, "He's completely nonverbal. He does not understand a lot of verbal commands."

That makes play time in the front yard, which is steps away from the road, always supervised. "We have to be very cautious with him because he does wander a lot, and he does love to run," Whisenant said.

Grayson doesn't know danger, so that's why when Whisenant spotted a delivery truck speeding past their house, she decided to see what she could to about a change. "That's when I made a decision to call the county commission to inquire about some signs that would possibly warn about a special needs child being in the area," she explained.

Commissioner Bill Stricklend said that request was a new one. He explained they can only put up road signs in the county that are authorized by the state of Alabama. He said a road sign for a deaf or blind child falls under that, but not autistic.

That's where Whisenant wants to see a change.

She posted her situation on Facebook and was overwhelmed by the response from other parents - some even from out-of-state.

Across the nation, road warning signs for autistic children seem to have mixed results. Stricklend said if it becomes authorized by the state, they'll put the sign up. County officials have discussed a speed limit for the area where the Whisenants live, near Union Grove Road outside of Arab, and commissioners say they plan to vote on that in the upcoming weeks. Residents can also call to request extra patrols in the area.

"Speaking for children with all kinds of disabilities I feel like there should be something that just even, you know, a special needs warning, just something out there that just gives people the clue to slow down and keep an eye out," Whisenant said.

She can put a sign in her own yard, but she hopes by raising awareness she and other parents will have a more official option.

We reached out to state officials about the possibility of a warning sign. We're waiting to hear back.

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