New Jersey police officer helps non-verbal boy with autism get communication device

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP (WABC) -- A New Jersey police officer's act of kindness is going viral after he went above and beyond the call of duty to help a missing boy with autism.

The 16-year-old, named Zion, is non-verbal, but Franklin Township police Officer Richard Hartnett helped the family come up with a way for him to communicate after he had once again run away from home.

"He wants to express himself," mom Kimora Miller said. "And I think once he's able to, he can do so much more in life, especially as he gets older."

Zion was quickly found close to his home, but Hartnett took it to heart and he went the extra mile to see if there was any way to help.

"When we go to a call all the time, and there has to be a root to the problem," he said. "So I wanted to see what we could do to fix the problem, to prevent him from running away."

The solution was a $300 tablet with a special application that allows people with limited communications skills to share their feelings, thoughts and disappointments. The tablet was donated to Zion to Jim O'Neil, who owns a local electronics store.

"It means a lot," O'Neil said. "You get a lot of gratification if this is something that can make his life a lot easier."

The hope is that with the new app, Zion will have less frustration and won't leave home as often.

"He can text basically whatever he wants," Miller said. "If it's 'I want some water,' and he sees the symbols, he can just press it."

With her active 3-year-old taking up much of her time an energy, Miller welcomes the gift that helps her eldest child communicate at home. She is thankful to the thoughtful police officers for their understanding and care for her son.
Copyright © 2022 WABC-TV. All Rights Reserved.