Firefighting and Autism


Autism written on the wipe board

According to the latest reports by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 1 in 68 children born in the United States fall on the autism spectrum. This is nearly twice as high as the rate a decade ago, and has particularly worsened for boys. Those with autism can struggle with a wide variety of developmental difficulties, many related to learning and communication, but also touching on motor skills, reasoning, sensory overload, and much more.

Despite this increase in autism issues across society, autism research still has a long road of study and evaluation ahead to find reliable assessment, treatment, and prevention tools. Many people also still retain plenty of misconceptions and misinformation about autism. This is why April has been set aside as National Autism Awareness Month – a time to spread the truth about autistic conditions and work together to support those affected by autism and the organizations that work on behalf of them.

Firefighters and Autism

While it may not seem that firefighting has much to do with autism, firefighters are sometimes the first to witness the toll that autism can take on individuals and families. When a child struggling with autism wanders away from home or school, firefighters are the ones who usually get the call and organize the search.

Firefighters receive similar training to EMTs, because they are often called upon to deal with emergency situations. As one of the fastest growing disabilities in the nation, autism is increasingly the cause of such emergencies. This means that firefighters across the United States are increasing their training and understanding of the autism spectrum so they are better prepared to deal with situations involving autism. This could be as simple as finding a person with autism during a fire, as many tend to separate from groups and hide alone, to dealing with a more direct emergency like a serious injury.

Autism training for firefighters includes specific guidelines for how to treat those with autism, what behaviors to avoid, and what actions may be most beneficial. Common points include:

  • Communication: When dealing with individuals with autism, it is important to speak slowly and clearly. The more simple and concrete the language, the easier it will be for those with autism to understand directions in a crisis.
  • Patience: Because people may freeze or shut down, firefighters need to show patience. Questions may need to be repeated, particularly when it comes to injuries, family contacts, or other important information. Sometimes those with autism may be silent for a long time before answering.
  • Positivity: Children who have autism still respond well to praise – it serves as a valuable guideline when encouraging a child to take unfamiliar action.
  • Understanding: There are many types of autism in the spectrum, and individual behaviors vary widely. There is no one way for people with autism to respond.

Firefighters Taking Action

Increasing their understanding of autism is only one facet for firefighters to support autism awareness and care. Groups such as Firefighters vs. Autism hold rallies, drawings, fundraisers and more to help support autism research and families that are dealing with autism. Autism Awareness Month is a particularly important time for these organizations.

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