Bright flashing lights, sirens wailing, air horns blowing and vibrating, smoke and other foreign odors permeating the air and strangers in unfamiliar uniforms – all a common scene of an emergency.
Any emergency situation like this is alarming and can raise anxiety for anyone – but especially for a person with autism spectrum disorder whose senses are sometimes heightened.
Communication is key in these situations, and training effectively minimizes problems. Getting involved locally, at the state level and nationally helps people with autism and their families to ensure they are prepared and officials are trained.
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Dennis Debbaudt, professional investigator, law enforcement trainer and father of a son with autism, is an expert on emergency response and autism. For more than 20 years he has written, spoken publicly and offered trainings internationally. He even created a website with videos to help inform emergency officials, autismriskmanagement.com.
Dennis’ work describes a potential gap between officials’ emergency knowledge and training when it comes to people with autism. He says that bridging the gap with training on awareness and interactions can help make emergency interactions smoother for officials and the populations they serve.
The Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) also promotes and provides training through their emergency preparedness program.
AuSM’s Family Emergency Preparedness Kit helps people with autism and their families/caregivers plan, prepare and better handle emergency situations.
The First Responder Emergency Preparedness Kit includes general autism awareness training as well as training materials for emergency medical services, law enforcement and firefighters.
Find AuSM’s kits at ausm.org/emergency-preparedness.html.
Melissa Moss-Larson, county public schools autism coordinator, Missoula, Mont., emphasizes communication between people with autism, their families and emergency responders.
She says that local and county police and fire departments and emergency medical services groups are always willing to participate in education activities. She recommends people with autism see, meet and interact with firefighters and their equipment in comfortable settings. They are less likely to panic, run away or have difficulty communicating.
Smart911 is a program public safety agencies like Missoula county use.
Melissa says the program allows people to enter specific information about their household, including particulars about people with autism and strategies for working with them. When an emergency is called from a phone number registered with Smart911, the information previously entered becomes available to officials responding to that location.
To make emergency reactions as smooth as possible, preparation is important especially when individuals with autism are involved.
Many training resources exist from a number of reliable sources to help emergency response officials receive appropriate training.
When possible, individuals with autism and their families and supports should become involved in training and preparation.