The mother of a boy with autism is hoping a street sign will make her community a little safer.
Ali Harris of South Roxana, Illinois, is the mom of 6-year-old Kyren, who has autism and is non-verbal. Kyren is fascinated with cars — which tend to speed on his street — and Ali worries about him running into traffic.
"We have a deadbolt on our door, but there’s always a chance of something scary happening," Harris, 25, told TODAY Parents. "Kyren also loves to pick up rocks and dirt on the side of the road — dropping them on the ground like a sand timer calms him — and he won't understand if a car honks."
Harris figured a sign would raise awareness about her son, both for drivers and for families who frequent the park across the street from their home and have asked why Kyren doesn't speak.
However, she didn't know how to make it happen — until two weeks ago, when South Roxana Police Chief Bob Coles visited the Fire-N-Smoke restaurant where Harris works.
After chatting for a bit, Harris said, "Do you know any kids with autism? I have a non-verbal kid and I wanted a street sign (for safety).”
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"I am a big fan of little acts of kindness," the father of three told TODAY Parents.
Coles also recognized a benefit. "We had one domestic violence case involving a non-verbal child, and a sign would have helped (explain their behavior)," he said.
Within days, a bright yellow “Autistic Child Area” sign stood outside Harris' home.
Harris saw the sign driving back from a road trip to Florida with Kyren and her fiancé, Dillon. "I said, 'Oh my God — it's there!'" she recalled.
Other families have crusaded for similar street signs. In 2020, the New York State Department of Transportation approved a "Child With Autism" sign after a family's request to protect their 3-year-old child, who has autism.
In 2021, after a long battle with city officials, an Ohio mom was granted a "Blind Child Area" sign to protect her seventh grade son.
Whether these signs work is situational, according to Margaret Nygren, the executive director and CEO of the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities.
"It's tough to research this in an ethical way," Nygren told TODAY Parents. She added that privacy laws — especially in municipalities that prohibit discrimination, potential harassment or concerns about cluttering the landscape — could discourage the signs.
Nygren said signs also could give false expectations of safety, especially if they aren't placed properly or a child runs into a different part of the road. And not everyone will obey the signs.
"In smaller communities where people know each other and are engaged in their neighborhood, the likelihood of compliance is higher," she noted.
"I applaud families who want to go the extra step (to protect their kids)," Nygren said.
Harris acknowledged that the sign may not help all children with autism, whose needs and behaviors differ greatly. Yet she's noticed slower traffic since the sign appeared, and she's grateful for another outcome for her family: "We finally feel included."