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Autism Seminar: Part 1 — First Responders

First responders learn how to identify and work with those with autism.

On Tuesday, Jan. 24, the Orange Volunteer Fire Department sponsored an Autism Awareness Seminar at Amity High School.

Members of the fire department, police department and Community Emergency Response Team along with several teachers and parents attended the information packed presentation by Massachusetts volunteer firefighter/paramedic Jason Dorval, who, himself is the father of an autistic son with Down Syndrome.

The nearly three hour seminar covered a myriad of information, something for everyone, if you will.

In this installment, the things first responders should look for when answering a call in which an autistic person may be involved.

Use the parents of autistic children as a resource to gather information (in a car accident, fire call when the first responder would be alone with the child)

• What is the child's functional level?

• What is the child's "normal"? Is he/she verbal or non-verbal?

• Explain what you are going to do in advance. Tell him/her about the stretcher and ambulance to avert anxiety.

• Move slowly when performing exams going from the distal (furthest area) such as feet, to the proximal - arms, chest, etc.
 
• The facial area is often off limits.

• Speak simply and use a calm voice.

• Repeat your questions and/or provide pen, pad, laptop or other device to obtain information from the autistic person.

• Because of hyper sensitivity, a C spine may be impossible in the event of an accident.
 
• When responding to a home with an autistic resident, be prepared to possibly encounter plexiglass windows, locked doors or other obstacles that are there to keep the person safe.

• If you need to get an autistic person out of a house wrap them in a blanket with his/her hands tucked inside so they can't break away, the swaddling will be a comfort to them.

• When stressed, such as in a fire, an autistic child or adult will most likely hide. Be prepared to use a thermal imaging camera.

• If you have to rescue a child from a second story window or other height, make sure you use a tower ladder and buckle yourself on so you don't get pushed or pulled off.

• Autistic children will bolt and they wander. They will run into traffic, rivers, ponds, pools, construction sites, train yards etc., because they don't realize the danger.

Kathy January 26, 2012 at 01:53 PM
As a parent of a child with Autism this seminar sponsored by Orange Fire Department was so very much appreciated! Jason did a great presentation and gave many people, both parents & Emergency Personnel thoughts to consider. Thanks Orange Fire Department! Kathy Haughton
Christopher Lyle January 26, 2012 at 02:58 PM
I echo Kathy's sentiments as well. Lisa Kaplan did a great job bringing this awareness and program to Orange. We look forward to working with the first responders to make a possible difficult situation for all, an easier one to work through.

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