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AbledResponders Post Link Banner shows New York City Police Department Divers conferring during the search for the remains if missing autistic teenager Avonte Oquendo whose photo appears as an insert with the title: Police: The Avonte Oquendo Tragedy Spotlights The Need For Police Autism Training. Click here to go to the post.

Special Needs Awareness Training Essential For First Responders

 

In the wake of the tragic death of Avonte Oquendo, the autistic and non-verbal 14 year old boy from Queens, New York, police departments in many cities are turning their attention to providing specialized  training to their officers on how to deal with persons who have been diagnosed with autism, and how to respond to reports of wandering off.

 

This isn’t the first time issues have been raised about how first responders deal with persons with special needs. Previous media stories have detailed persons with diabetes being tasered by police – sometimes with deadly consequences –  when they were in the middle of a low blood sugar or hypoglycemic event that causes perceptual narrowing and makes them appear as though they are drunk, and their muscles ‘crying out for glucose’ in an involuntary manner making them appear to be violent.

 

There have also been tragic occasions when persons with autism have died after being rescued from a burning house or building by firefighters because they became confused and ran back into the only place of sanctuary they know and feel safe in. They are difficult circumstances that have no easy answers when you consider that police officers, ambulance personnel or paramedics often have to make snap judgement calls and also have to take into account their own safety when responding to situations where they are confronting individuals who are appear to be drunk, violent, or mentally ill.

 

More awareness and training workshops and videos about dealing with persons who have special needs are trying to help, and the catalysts behind many of these programs are first responders who, themselves, are the parents of a child diagnosed with autism.

 

AbledResponders photo taken by Bill Wade of post-gazette.com shows Aspinwall police Officer Scott Bailey saying goodbye to his son Trevor, 15, by embracing him and kissing his forehead as Tom Swan, Allegheny County deputy district attorney, with his son Kevin, left, watch after a group photo was taken outside the Aspinwall Police Department. Both teens are autistic, as is Officer Bailey’s other son, Trent. The two families are part of a training video for police.

 Photo: Bill Wade/Post-Gazette

Aspinwall Police Officer Scott Bailey says goodbye to his son Trevor, 15, as Tom Swan, Allegheny County deputy district attorney, with his son Kevin, left, watch after a group photo was taken outside the Aspinwall Police Department. Both teens are autistic, as is Officer Bailey’s other son, Trent.

 

One current example on the law enforcement front is a DVD being produced in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania because of the efforts of Scott Bailey, a part-time police officer and a full-time 911 emergency dispatcher, and deputy district attorney Tom Swan, both of whom have children with autism.

 

They convinced Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. to commission the project, titled “Encountering People with Autism” for police and other first responders and hope to distribute it in March to over a hundred police departments in the County.

 

As Michael A. Fuoco writes in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The hope (of the DVD) is to avoid the possibility of officers or autistic persons being injured because an officer misinterprets the actions of a person with autism, which could include fleeing, repeating or not responding to warnings or commands, or throwing a tantrum, among others. Elsewhere in the country, persons with autism have been fatally shot by police officers who reacted to actions they thought were life-threatening but were instead manifestations of the disorder.

Read the full article here.

 

On the firefighting front, Captain Bill Cannata is the Project Coordinator of the ALEC Program (the Autism & Law Enforcement Education Coalition). He is also the father of a son diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum. ALEC has trained over 21,000 first responders since it was formed in 2003.

 

Through the Arc of South Norfolk  charity in Massachusetts, which has obtained grant funding through the Department of Homeland Security’s Assistance to Firefighters Grant Program, ALEC will further train 20 United States International Airport Fire Departments as well as various Fire Departments in 12 states throughout the U.S. To date, ALEC has trained over 21,000 first responders and made the program available on video to the entire New York City Fire Department. In 2012, NBC’s TODAY show profiled Bill Cannata and his efforts to raise the awareness of his fellow firefighters:

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More recently, the local Fox station in Cadillac, Michigan reported on another firefighter/paramedic from Massachussetts who presented the ALEC program to first responders in Traverse City, Michigan:

Sahara Cares , a foundation formed by the Sahara building and management company has also produced a training video about dealing with persons diagnosed with autism. It’s being shown at training facilities and in regular pre-duty training sessions.  The purpose of the DVD is to raise awareness of the rising prevalence of autism in our communities.  It discusses ways to recognize the disability and gives constructive suggestions for dealing with people with autism.  The DVD is being offer for free to any organization that can benefit from it. 

Click on the screengrab below from the Sahara Cares website to order the DVD:

 

AbledResponders Photo shows a screengrab fromthe Sahara Cares Foundation, the charity of the Sahara Property Management Company in Utah. The screengrab includes a still frame from a video on helping police departments respond to cases of autistic wandering. Click on the photo to go to the Sahara Cares website.

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AbledAlert Post Link Banner shows photos from the posters of three missing autistic teen males. Two are marked with red banners and the words 'found', while the third read 'Found Dead'. The headline reads: Missing Autistic Teens: Tragic Update. Click here to go to the story.

 

AbledConditions Post Link Banner shows a New York Times illustration by Lauren Nassef depicting three open milk cartons seen at an angle with a 'Missing' message on one side and the image of a male teenager 'walking' through the side panels. The headline reads: Autism: How to prevent children and teens from wandering and how to respond if they do. Click here to go to the post.

 

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Abled Public Service Ad for the Arc South Norfolk and the ALEC program (Autism and Law ENforcement Education Coalition). CLick here to go to their website.

 

Abled Public Service Ad for Sahara Cares, the Sahara construction and management company's Foundation. CLick here to go to their website.

 

Abled Public Service Ad for the National Autism Association. Click here to go to their website.

 

Abled Public Service Ad for Autism Speaks shows a jigsaw puzzle piece that resembles a person with the text Autism Speaks - It's time to listen. Click here to go to the organization's website.

 

Abled Public Service Ad for the Canadian Autism Spectrum DIsorder Alliance. Click here to go to their website.

 

Abled Public Service Ad link to The National Autistic Society in the United Kingdom. Click here to go to their website.

 

Abled Public Service Ad link to Autism Europe. Click here to go to their website.

 

Abled Public Service Ad for Autism Awareness Australia. Click here to go to their website.

 

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