First responders receive autism recognition and response training

Local News

06/13/19) More than 3.5 million American are living with Autism Spectrum Disorder. While the severity of the disability varies for each autistic individual, the knowledge and skill of many first responders who deal with them is not sufficient.

“A lot of them [autistic child or adult] are nonverbal. They may not be able to tell what’s hurting them or what’s going on,” Rebecca Blankenship said. “They may be more combative. So, it is important for our first responders here locally to be able to recognize that.”

Blankenship is the founder of the Ashley County Autism Support Group and mother of an autistic child.. This is the first time the group has been able to offer a training to first responders. It’s also the first time it’s being offered in Southeast Arkansas.

“This is the first class I’ve ever been to on autism or had any training on it,” said Morehouse Parish Sheriff’s Deputy, Josh Hawthorne.

Law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and medical staff from Ashley, Drew, Chicot and Union Counties as well as Morehouse Parish were in attendance.

Bart Barta, President of Autism Safety 101, was the guest speaker at the training. He is a retired law enforcement commander and has an autistic son. He was able to provide expertise on both sides of the spectrum.

“At the end of the day, we want the best outcomes for the folks with autism and we want best outcomes for first responders,” Barta said.

Barta gave attendees a basic understanding of autistic individuals and how they behave and communicate.

Hand flapping, toe walking and brisk pacing are all common movements made by someone who is autistic. Many times, these individuals are mistaken for someone who is on a controlled substance or have a mental health disorder. 

“People with autism are an important part of our community, and they are in all communities,” he said.

The signs, symptoms and how to deal with autism comes second nature for parents and those who are trained to deal with these children and adults. For those that aren’t trained, the signs aren’t recognizable.

“Unless you know their body language, unless you know what their typical is… you wouldn’t understand,” Cynthia MacDonald said.

 MacDonald is a mother of two autistic boys. She knows firsthand the struggles of trying to get her boys to engage in certain activities.

One of her fears is being injured in a car accident where she’s unable to communicate to emergency staff. Her boys may be fine but if an officer isn’t able to calm her children, she would hate to see something happen to them too.

“God forbid you have two more victims,” she said. 

A few representatives from each department was designated to attend.  Many of the first responders say they will make sure the information from the training doesn’t go to waste.

“We want our entire team trained to be able to recognize Autism Spectrum Disorder, how to respond to it and how to better care for patients and their families,” Ken Kelley, President of Pro Med Ambulance said.

If your department is interested in learning more about how you can go through the training, visit Autism Safety 101.

If you are a caregiver or parent with someone who is autistic, visit the Ashley County Autism Support group Facebook page.

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