At some point in your fire service career, you may find yourself in a situation involving a person with autism. You need to be aware of the challenges this may present in an emergency. With a little bit of knowledge, all first responders can prepare for this.
What you need to know about autism
People on the autism spectrum don't communicate in ways that you are used to. Nearly 50% are nonverbal, and another 20% are nonverbal when highly stressed. They may not feel heat, cold or pain like others. Many are strongly attracted to water, making drowning a leading cause of death among both children and adults with autism.
Families with an autistic member may have to lock interior doors and even bar or nail exterior windows to keep their loved one safe. This may initially look like an abuse situation to you. It may also cause entry and exit issues for emergency personnel.
Comfort kits can help you to communicate
For people with autism, learning to interact with first responders is critical. It is also essential for first responders to understand autism and be prepared to respond effectively and safely.
Fire departments in Ohio and Ontario have created comfort kits (sensory bags) that help first responders communicate with people who have autism. Items in the kit help to keep the individual calm and reduce noise, a common stressor for those with autism. These kits are quick to put together and inexpensive to create.
For more information
Autism Speaks and the Autism Spectrum Disorder Foundation provide information, tips and resources specifically for firefighters, law enforcement, EMS, 911 personnel, and search and rescue teams.