Seminar educates first-responders about autism

By John W. Goodwin Jr.


A significant number of adults diagnosed with some form of autism will have some kind of contact with police and other first-responders in the future, and local emergency personnel want to be ready.

Police officers from eight local departments as well as firefighters, ambulance personnel and emergency-room workers came together for a four-hour seminar Wednesday on dealing with the autistic population. The seminar was sponsored by the Autism Society of Ohio, Mahoning County Mental Health Board, Help Hotline and the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Ron Marian, Mahoning County Mental Health Board director, said the goal is to make sure first- responders are ready and equipped to deal with autistic individuals while on the job.

“Autism is prominent in our community as in all communities, and we want to train them how to handle those situations if they go out to a home where an autistic child is present,” he said.

Marian said the training on autism is a more specific form of training in line with the Crisis Intervention Training most police officers already receive. The CIT training consists of 36 hours of additional training on a myriad of topics, including schizophrenia and de-escalation tips.

Mark Farrar, an Akron police officer speaking at the seminar, said new statistics recently released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that 1 in 50 children born now will be diagnosed with some form of autism, and a large percentage of those kids eventually will have interaction with first-responders.

“Someone with autism is seven times as likely to have an encounter with first-responders because they go out in public and they become fearful and anxious when put in a situation that is strange to them and can then behave inappropriately. ... They can’t help this; it is a brain disorder,” he said.

One of the techniques Farrar teaches first- responders is to simply “slow down” when dealing with an autistic person. He said most autistic people process information more slowly, and that often does not go well with a police officer’s natural inclination to quickly get to the facts of a situation.

Aundrea Cika, director of the Mahoning Valley Chapter of Autism Society of Ohio, said not being properly trained in dealing with the autistic can lead to difficult situations and become dangerous for the autistic person and first-responders.

“If a firefighter goes into a fire and has to save an autistic child and grabs that child, if this is a child who is on the autism spectrum and does not like to be touched, it could be dangerous for both the firefighter and the child,” she said.

The seminar took place this month, which is Autism Awareness Month.

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