Gloucester Township unveils a new Paverart walkway to celebrate Autism Awareness Day

Walkway paves the path for larger conversations about special needs and safety.

EMILY LIU/The Sun: The “Supporting Neurodiversity” walkway by Paverart was unveiled in front of the Gloucester Township Police Department Building on Friday, April 2.

After two years in the making, a new Paverart walkway that reads “Supporting Neurodiversity” was unveiled on April 2, Autism Awareness Day. The Paverart was presented by Gloucester Township police officers, Mayor David Mayer, and Paverart owner Mark Olivito in front of the Gloucester Township Police Department building. The walkway features the Gloucester Township logo in its center, surrounded by the police shield, with the words “Supporting Neurodiversity” around it. Mixed into the dark background are colorful puzzle pieces that represent autism and neurodiversity. The words “Support,” “Inclusion,” and “Acceptance” encircle the design.

Mark Olivito, owner of Paverart in Lindenwold, hopes that the design sparks a conversation about neurodiversity. The project started two years ago, in 2019 when Tiffany Scovern came to Paverart with the idea of creating something to show support of neurodiversity and autism.

“When we met Tiffany, we learned a new word: neurodiversity. I never heard of that word before,” Olivito said during the press conference. “What ‘neurodiverse’ means is that we’re all different; as human beings, our brains are different. I think the question that we have as a community that we need to ask ourselves is ‘is that going to be embraced as a community’ or are we going to look the other way?’”

The creation of the walkway brought about conversations about struggles people with special needs face, but also shed light on how the community can better help them. At the unveiling, Chief David Harkins talked about the different initiatives that the Gloucester Township Police Department has to make the place safer for the community. In 2015, the police department created an Autism Development Disability registry for people with special needs to help provide officers with more information about the registered individual, like emergency contact information, detailed physical descriptions, known routines, favorite attractions or special needs of an individual with autism or other disabilities such as Alzheimer’s, dementia, Down syndrome or any other endangered individuals. The registry is free, completely voluntary, and has been well received by the families of people who have been registered.

Harkins also presented a seat belt cover that reads “Autism/May not respond, may be unaware of danger, may resist help” as well as bright orange stickers in the shape of a puzzle piece that has similar information.

These initiatives were brought about by conversations with the special needs community, and have directly addressed concerns that Scovern shared about her son.

“My son is nonverbal. If we’re in a car accident, and I’m unconscious, I am my son’s voice,” Scovern said. “He’s not going to be able to tell you ‘this hurts’ or ‘that hurts,’ or what it is. I might understand my son’s emotions and triggers, but if there’s something that’s labelled, this is a situation where EMS, fire fighters, police will be able to identify right away.”

Scovern also shared how small things can make a difference. She said she often brings her son to the Veterans Memorial Park because it’s fenced in, and he can play without her worrying that he’ll wander off somewhere. She is hopeful that in the future, there will be more safe spaces like this.

During the presentation, Harkins explained that if the responding officers know a person has certain triggers, they can avoid them when responding to them, “like if they’re running away or missing, the sirens might scare them off.

“In police work, the more information that we have to who we’re responding to and who we can help, the better that the officers can handle the situation,” Harkins explained.

To register an individual with disabilities with the Gloucester Township Police Department, visit https://gtpolice.com/programs/community-relations/addr-autism-development-disability-registration/.

To learn more about autism, visit https://www.autism.org/.