Saturday, June 13, 2009

Firemen, EMT's, Police...Meet My Kid

As as proud member of the neurotic parents club I have taken my son to our local fire station and police department, plopped him on a counter and said "Hey look at my kid”. Our kids are not invisible, they are in the community and we need you to be able to recognize them, so you can help them. When I see a local firemen in Starbucks, community events or the grocery store I stop and introduce Nicky. I tell them that I live in the neighborhood and this is my kid and he has ASD. I ask if they are familiar with our kids, how many of kids have ASD, or how to best help them in an emergency situation? Most often they smile, stammer and I can see them trying to find an answer that will not offend me, or show their ignorance. I then zoom in, let them off the hook for not knowing and I begin talking and most important of all I get them to interact with Nicky. I need them to see him, really see him. I need them to know that our kids are great kids, wonderful kids, bright kids, loving kids, I need them to care. I need them to care because NicPlanes Trains and Automobiles" and posted information about our kids, law enforcement and the juvenile justice system on "Juvenile Justice??? The System and our Kids". I have imagined frightening scenarios in my mind and heard disturbing stories of kids with ASD being involved in police or emergency situations with outcomes that were not so good. I think we all are justified to be concerned about what would happen if our child was in an emergency situation and the first emergency person they encountered, did not recognize autism, how would that affect the outcome. It's disturbing that so many of our first responders have not been trained or given information so they can be prepared when they come in contact with our kids. But, there is hope.
ky could get lost, he could get hurt, he could be in any emergency situation, just like any other kid. I need all of the community first responders to know how to respond to him. I need them ready to help him the same way they would help another child, even though Nicky won't respond to them like another child. I've shared my fears about Nicky airports and TSA agents on "

I got an email from Autism Speaks announcing a new tool they have created to help keep our kids safe and I'm excited to pass it along. It’s a took kit with materials you can print to keep at home, to keep with your child, to give to your local police, fire department and EMTs. I’ve already make copies and I’m taking them around to our local first responders today. I’m also going to send this link to community groups and organizations. I hope you will all check it out and pass it along. This is an easy way we can all help to keep our kiddos and loved ones safe by spreading the word in our communities. Thanks Autism Speaks for doing this work for all of us!

They have detailed information by category on the site:
• Home
• National Resources
• Fire Fighters
• Law Enforcement
• Emergency Medical Teams
• Emergency Room Staff
• Judicial System
• Search and Rescue
• Families

Here is the link and a description of the project.

Project to Aid First Responders Online Tool Kit Provides Information and Strategies for First Responders to Promote Safe Interactions with People Who Have Autism NEW YORK, NY (June 11, 2009) – Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, today announced the launch of the Autism Safety Project, an online tool kit for individuals with autism, families, and first responders that provides information and strategies to promote safety in emergency situations. Created to educate and inform emergency personnel about the different challenges faced by individuals on the autism spectrum, the Autism Safety Project is available for free download at The Autism Safety Project kit is broken down into sections offering information and strategies targeted to specific categories of first responders: police, firefighters, EMS personnel, hospital emergency workers, search and rescue personnel and judicial system employees. Later this summer, the tool kit will be expanded to include information for teachers, school administrators, security personnel and emergency dispatchers. Within each section there is information about autism characteristics and strategies to facilitate safe and productive interactions. The tool kit also features materials to help families be better prepared for an emergency or crisis situation, including tools for creating an effective safety plan. In addition, there is a list of national autism information resources that includes first responder training programs and safety programs for people with disabilities. “Situations occur every day that require first responders to interact with people who have autism,” said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks executive vice president of programs and services. “The Autism Safety Project offers information and strategies to bridge the gap that is often found between people with autism and emergency personnel and increase the access and availability of information to promote safety and awareness.” “As a police officer, 9-1-1 instructor, and the parent of two children with autism, I feel particularly strongly about the need for greater autism awareness among first responders and encouraging safer interactions with individuals on the spectrum,” said Radcliffe Kenison, chair of Autism Speaks' Western New England Walk Now for Autism. “The Autism Safety Project kit offers valuable information that I hope many first responders will take the time to read and use on the job.” The tool kit is a collaborative effort with first responder organizations across the country, many of which already provide training for first responders and resources to their respective communities. The information in the Autism Safety Project was compiled by autism professionals in conjunction with first responders as well as parents. An advisory committee reviewed the project and provided further input. “The Autism Safety Project is an important tool that will benefit both individuals with autism and first responders, who are often taken aback when they encounter a person with autism in a crisis situation for the first time,” said Captain William A. Cannata, Jr., a 30-year veteranof the fire service and an officer with the Westwood, Mass., Fire Department. “We want to make first responders more familiar with some of the unique behaviors associated with autism and connect them with training programs that model positive interactions.” Captain Cannata, who served on the professional approval committee for the Autism Safety Project, is the statewide coordinator of the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC), which educates first responders across the state of Massachusetts about autism spectrum disorders and how to better understand a person who is on the spectrum. He is also the parent of a child with ASD.

Here are some great links for general information

Autism Alliance for Local Emergency Responder Training -
• This website includes areas for professionals to blog, a calendar of events, training sessions, news and links for both parents and professionals.
The Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition -
• The ALEC program provides training to First Responders so that they are able to recognize situations involving children and adults with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).
Autism Risk and Safety Management
• This website provides information and resources for law enforcement, first responders, parents, educators and care providers.
Autism Spectrum Disorders from A to Z
• This website provides links to books, resources and information about Autism Spectrum Disorders. There are also articles and speaking dates by the authors.
Caretrak Systems –
• Caretrak aims to protect children with special needs with home monitoring systems and tracking units. These are used by hundreds of parents across the country and abroad. Their devices alert parents when their child leaves a certain area and the tracking unit can find a child within a mile radius.
Community and Law Enforcement Aware Response –
• The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and the Autism Society of America- Los Angeles Chapter (ASA-LA) have partnered to develop an Autism Awareness Roll Call Training Program targeted to LAPD officers. Volunteers from the Los Angeles area autism community will present key information about Autism Spectrum Disorders during roll call briefings
Disability, Abuse & Personal Rights Project –
• This website is dedicated to the personal rights of children and adults with disabilities, with a mission to prevent abuse of these individuals.
Inclusive Preparedness Center -
• The Inclusive Preparedness Center works to ensure that all individuals are included in the development and implementation of plans for protection from natural and man-made emergencies.
The Law Enforcement Awareness Network –
• It is the mission of L.E.A.N. On Us to provide first responders with information and resources that will allow them to better serve individuals within their communities affected by disabilities and mental illness.
National Autism Association –
• Autism presents a unique set of safety concerns for parents. Unlocking Autism and the NAA have teamed up to provide safety information for parents and families.
National Center for Missing and Exploited Children –
• NCMEC's mission is to help prevent child abduction and sexual exploitation, help find missing children and assist victims of child abduction and sexual exploitation, their families, and the professionals who serve them.
Pacer Center –
• The mission of the PACER Center (Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights) is to expand opportunities and enhance the quality of life of children and young adults with disabilities and their families, based on the concept of parents helping parents.
Project Lifesaver –
• Project Lifesaver's primary mission is to locate and rescue missing persons. They have established many partnerships with local law enforcement to help save money and time for taxpayers. They also have many partnerships that help to strengthen the awareness and provide information about their technologies and services.
Safe and Sound –
• The Safe and Sound initiative provides much-needed information to the autism community on topics such as general safety, emergency preparedness, 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 goal of Safe and Sound is to provide information and training to those who are first on the scene in an emergency situation.
Select Autism Merchandise –
• This website allows for both parents and professionals to buy merchandise to help keep individuals on the spectrum safe. Additionally, this website provides a forum for people to discuss their concerns and ask for products that they might need.
Additional Readings
• Autism and Law Enforcement Education
• Debbaudt, D. "Avoiding Unfortunate Situations: Autism & Law Enforcement Handouts" - PDF Format: Debbaudt AUS Handout.pdf & Word Format: Debbaudt AUS Handout.doc
• Debbaudt, D. and D. Rothman. “Contact with Individuals with Autism” : FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, April 2001 at
• Doyle, B. “And Justice for All: Unless You Have Autism: What the Legal System Needs to Know About People with Autism Spectrum Disorders"
• Gerald Hasselbrink Law Offices “Autism Safety Techniques: Assessing and Approaching Individuals With Autism” Information Sheet
• National Organization on Disability, "Prepare Yourself: Disaster Readiness Tips for People with Disabilities"


  1. Thanks for writing about your experience educating emergency responders in your community about your son and autism spectrum disorders.

  2. I'm copying this, pasting it and printing it! Thank you so very much, Donna. You always go the extra 100 miles. All of us ASD mommies and daddies appreciate your research and devotion to keeping all children safe and in loving hands.

  3. Wonderful information, thank you. My son is 5 and has autism...the weekend before Easter he "eloped" out of the house for the first time and we had to call 911 for help finding him. One of the scariest afternoons of my life - thankfully he was not hurt.

    I will be looking into your suggestions and I thank you for posting them!

  4. GREAT information!!! I think our local FEAT group is going to work on something with emergency officials. :)

  5. Thank you for posting this! I am an emergency worker & found this while doing a search. I'm printing out the information from the Autism Safety Project to post at our station.

    Thanks again.

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