Training First Responders to Know the Signs of Autism Spectrum Disorder
This year we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The official anniversary, July 26, 2015, has just passed and it reminds us that all first responders - campus police, campus security, EMS, hospital personnel, etc. - need to be appropriately trained in how to work with those with disabilities.
Physical disabilities are, in many ways, the easiest to address simply because they are clearly identifiable. Other disabilities, such as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), continue to rise sharply and are not distinguishable by any physical feature. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, 1 in 68 children were identified with ASD. That's approximately 120% higher than estimates from 2000-2002. In addition, ASD is five times more common in boys than in girls.
First responders and law enforcement personnel are aware how stressful and chaotic emergency situations can be for everyone. These situations can be intensified for someone with ASD and understanding how to interact with individuals with ASD is critical to providing the best care possible for everyone involved.
The Autism Society has created fact sheets for law enforcement and other first responders (PDF) and paramedics and emergency room staff (PDF) with vital information about common behaviors individuals with ASD may exhibit or how they may respond in certain situations. Some helpful hints for law enforcement include:
- Speak slowly and use simple language
- Use concrete terms
- Repeat simple questions
- Allow time for responses
- Do not attempt to physically block self-stimulating behavior
- Remember that each individual with autism is unique and may act differently than others
In addition, training for law enforcement and other first responders is available from several sources:
For more information on ASD, please visit the CDC, Autism Society or Autism Speaks.