First-Responders Learn to Properly Approach and Aid those with ASD

First-responders are receiving trainings that are critical in helping those on the autism spectrum during an emergency.
(photo: bigstory.ap.org)

With the autism diagnosis rate rapidly increasing, an emerging issue is having safety officials develop a better understanding of how to properly aid those on the spectrum. Approaching those with autism when they are in danger takes great precaution.

For instance, 14-year-old Nick from Vancouver had a fall when he was at summer camp, and although he had a serious leg injury, it was difficult to express this to first responders. Medics were unable to diagnose him, as Nick, who is autistic and has difficulty communicating, could not properly express what was wrong. Nick’s mother, Kari, felt that the medics should have had a better approach to understanding what the injury was, and it was clear they did not know how to work with someone on the autism spectrum. It was soon revealed that the medics did not have any training on how to address those with autism or other developmental disabilities.

Nick, who ended up having a broken hip and needed to undergo surgery, inspired workshops in his area to address ways to deal with emergencies when the individual has autism. With autism rates rising, more emergency services are configuring how to address those on the spectrum, and tend to the specific needs and concerns of parents.

Workshops are discussing some of the primary safety concerns for those with autism, including the fact that nearly half of all children with autism tend to wander. Furthermore, children with autism tend to be drawn to water. Therefore, it is essential to call police when a child with autism goes missing, and to check all sources of water. It is critical to think of places where a child likes to go, and the places and things that they might be drawn to.

Communicating with those on the spectrum can be difficult in times of crisis, as some individuals on the spectrum are nonverbal. Several police departments are implementing databases that aid children and adults who have trouble communicating due to a disability. For example, the Pensacola Police Department maintains a database, called the Take Me Home Program, consisting of a photo, physical description, emergency contacts, and information about the individual’s disability. If they are found alone, officers can pull up all the information that will further assist them in helping the individual.

In addition, many police departments within the U.S. and Canada are leading trainings to assist those with ASD, as part of crisis intervention training sessions. For many, it is the first time that training specifically focuses on those with autism. These trainings are increasingly more critical, as first responders should have a better understanding of how to approach and aid the increasing autistic population.

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