Autistic boy’s passion for police work is contagious

When Grayson Gochanour thinks about police officers and the role they play, his 7-year-old mind gets excited. His parents, Greg and Redonna, said the reality show, “Cops,” has inspired him to pretend he is arresting his 5-year-old brother, William, or to stand out in the street and act as though he has the power and authority to direct traffic.

In recent years, the Gochanours have limited their son’s viewing of police-related shows, but that hasn’t stopped him from being a police officer three times for Halloween.

That’s why Grayson, who was diagnosed with autism when he was 3, didn’t have to think twice when the Puyallup Police Department approached the Gochanours to ask if their son would like to participate in their Chief for a Day program.

The program, started by the state Criminal Justice Training Commission, provides police departments opportunities to select a child who is battling a chronic or life-threatening disease to join them as an honorary chief.

The children, like Grayson, learn about the departments and participate in community events with officers. The program culminates with a special dedication day at the training commission center on Aug. 21 in Burien. Thirty-two departments participate statewide.

Grayson will receive a police uniform. The first event in which he’ll participate will be the Daffodil Festival Grand Floral parade. He will ride in a police car with his name printed on it.

Grayson and his family were identified with the help of Steven Shores, a therapist from the children’s unit at MultiCare Good Samaritan Hospital.

The Gochanours said that, since Grayson’s diagnosis, they’ve researched autism and found early intervention as a key.

“The sooner you identify, and the more therapy that is available, (a child) can deal with it better,” Redonna said.

Redonna said she and her husband identified Grayson’s triggers, such as smells, bright lights and sounds. They said Grayson has shown remarkable improvement with the help of occupational, speech and social-skills therapies.

“The children’s therapy unit has been amazing,” Redonna said.

The Gochanours said the Chief for a Day program is a good opportunity for their son.

“He has an image of what police do on TV,” Redonna said. “This will help him to understand the reality of police work. So, if he’s pretending to be a policeman, then he’s doing it safely.”

Nichole McNiven, a records supervisor at the Puyallup Police Department, is the chair of the program this year.

“I learned that there are two other agencies that are sponsoring autistic children as well,” McNiven said. “I think it will bring a great awareness to this long-term illness.”

Grayson wore SWAT gear last Wednesday with the help of Deputy Chief Dave McDonald and Officer Dave Temple. Chief Bryan Jeter was out sick, and the Gochanours thought Grayson may not like the change in routine. But he did all right, they said.

Jeter said Grayson’s passion for law enforcement is incredible.

“It’s very contagious,” he said. “Grayson is absorbing this and is very into the police culture and wants to be a police officer when he gets older. His passion is very nice to see.”

Jeter said the Gochanours are now part of the Puyallup Police Department family.

In addition to the Daffodil Festival parade, Grayson will make an appearance at the Washington State Fair Rodeo parade in September and the Santa parade in December. He will turn on the lights for the Christmas tree at Pioneer Park, Jeter said.

The chief added the police department has a fundraising goal of $2,500 to help offset the cost of gifts for Grayson and his family. Those could include gift cards to help with hotel stays, travel to and from the hospital and food.

“We’re trying to make their life a little bit easier and trying to ease their mind,” Jeter said. “They can definitely focus on Grayson’s health. It’s just a great program. For us to be part of their family is very special to us, and we appreciate it.”