Autism Awareness Month: Tips for First Responders

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Autism is one of the fastest growing disabilities in the world. Statistics show that at least one million children and adults have a diagnosis of autism or a related disorder, like Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified,” also known as P.D.D.-N.O.S. This diagnosis has increased by 78 percent in the past decade.

While first responders are trained to handle all types of emergencies, additional training is required to deal with certain circumstances. Many organizations offer training to assist first responders in recognizing and interacting with children and adults on the autism spectrum, including Autism Alert and Prevent-Educate.

Due to the specific challenges that come with rescuing a person on the autism spectrum, including their difficulty following verbal commands, and the high probability that they’ll run after being rescued, here are a few tips for interacting with an individual with 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.

Knowing what to do and how to approach individuals with autism is the first step in effectively handling any emergency situation.

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