Resources available to first responders and what trainings can be provided to help educate those first on the scene.
The Autism Society began the Safe and Sound initiative in 2005 to provide much-needed resources to the autism community on topics such as general safety, emergency preparedness and prevention, and risk management. Safe and Sound works to develop information and strategies that are beneficial to individuals on the spectrum, their families and the professionals who work with them. Another significant aspect of Safe and Sound is to provide information and training to various first responders—those who are first on the scene in an emergency situation.
The Autism Society works on the Safe and Sound initiative through a collaborative effort with Dennis Debbaudt, a law enforcement trainer with more than 10 years of experience presenting autism-related training sessions. Dennis’s book, Avoiding Unfortunate Situations, became the first resource to address the interactions between law enforcement professionals and people on the autism spectrum, and his training materials are in use by law enforcement agencies around the world. Safe and Sound helps parents and professionals identify potential public safety or criminal/juvenile justice situations and provide possible solutions so that individuals with autism and those who care for them can be prepared for, stay safe during and avoid these situations.
Created by the Autism Society, and safety expert Dennis Debbaudt, as part of the Autism Society’s Safe and Sound Initiative, the Emergency Decal can be placed on your door or automobile window to alert First Responders. A companion piece, the Personal Information Record, provides information to help primary caregivers be prepared in case of emergency and gives on-scene tips for emergency personnel. The Personal Information Record should be updated regularly and kept in a place where emergency responders have access to relevant information.
Tips for First Responders on Interacting with an Individual with Autism
People on the autism spectrum may:
- not understand what you say
- appear deaf
- be unable to speak or speak with difficulty
- engage in repetitive behaviors
- act upset for no apparent reason
- appear insensitive to pain
- appear anxious or nervous
- dart away from you unexpectedly
- engage in self-stimulating behaviors (i.e., hand flapping or rocking)
This individual may not understand the law, know right from wrong, or know the consequences of his or her actions.
Helpful hints for interacting with someone who has autism:
- Speak slowly and use simple language
- Use concrete terms
- Repeat simple questions
- Allow time for responses
- Give lots of praise
- Do not attempt to physically block self-stimulating behavior
- Remember that each individual with autism is unique and may act differently than others
The Autism Society offers a series of fact sheets and brochures to educate and support crime victim assistance professionals, individuals with autism, their families and friends. There are pieces written specifically for law enforcement officers, paramedics, emergency room staff, and more. Visit the Autism Society’s Free Downloads for PDFs and more information.
The Autism Society’s Autism Awareness Wallet Card is a colorful two-sided card that provides “helpful hints” for interacting with someone who has autism and includes special information for law enforcement or medical emergency personnel.
Arizona First Responders Committee
The purpose of this committee is to share information between First Responders and families who have a loved one with Autism.
Co-Chairs: Renata and Sam Irving
- Discuss challenges police, firefighters, and EMTs, may encounter while responding to an emergency involving an individual with Autism, or a family member needing assistance. Challenges may include difficulty processing instructions, lack of eye contact, elopement, self-stimulating behaviors, insensitivity to pain, heightened anxiety, unreliable answers to questions.
- Provide written information on Autism to First Responders from reliable sources including Autism Society of America, Autism Speaks, L.E.A.N.onus.org. ( Law Enforcement Awareness Network)
- Provide informational forms to families for First Responders regarding reliable and current information at home and in vehicles.
- Discuss and determine best access to information at home and in vehicles with First Responders.
- Encourage families to register their loved one with Autism at local emergency 911 office (including proof of guardianship if over 21). They will notify First Responders that a loved one with Autism may be on site of emergency. In cases of wandering or elopement, they will include Autism and information in B.O.L.O ( Be on look out ).
- Provide Autism Society of America “Safe and Sound” cards to all Gilbert Police Officers and any other department willing to accept them
- Provide A.S.A. “Safe and Sound” cards to as many firefighters and EMTs their training officers deem necessary. Encourage them to look for Autism magnets, bumper stickers, bracelets, t-shirts, etc…
- Provide Victim Assistance information to counselors working with Gilbert Police Department from A.S.A. and leanonus.org.
- Provide positive opportunities for interaction and plan activities with Gilbert First Responders including Walk for Autism and World Autism Awareness Day (April 2).
- Report progress of these goals with E.V.A.N. families, and A.F.A.A. (Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism) participants.
Committee consultants include:
- Sharon Taylor-Woods, Counseling Offices at Gilbert Police Department
- Officer Hugh White, Gilbert Police Department
- Josh Reynolds and Crew Gilbert Firefighter Station #4
- Kim Choppi, R.N. and EMT Educator
If you would like to be a part of this committee and help spread awareness to our first responders, please click here.