Excerpts from the rblandmark.com:

About 70 police officers, firefighters, paramedics, high school and mall security personnel, and emergency dispatchers from North Riverside, Brookfield, Riverside, and Brookfield Zoo got a crash course in handling incidents involving people on the autism spectrum last week during special training sessions.

Three two-hour training sessions were taught by an autism specialist from EasterSeals Chicago. This training costs $750 an hour, and when factoring in multiple shifts, the cost can drive smaller agencies away. A $5,000 grant from Autism Speaks is helping to defray the cost.

North Riverside paramedics in the past year have responded to a couple of incidents involving people who appeared to be behaving unusually, but had no identifiable medical issues. It wasn’t immediately apparent to the paramedics that the individuals were autistic. In one instance they were called to the mall after security observed an adult sitting in the same spot for several hours. Unsure what to do, they called paramedics.

The inability of first responders emergency personnel to communicate with someone on the spectrum or identify that they are autistic can lead to potentially dangerous situations. Family members at times express fear that police or paramedics will misinterpret the actions of someone with autism when someone reports an adult acting strangely. 

One of the takeaways from the training is a toolkit with items to help emergency personnel communicate with someone on the spectrum. The items include cards, that can assist police and paramedics understand the problem they’re confronting – whether someone is in pain or needs to take their medication – or to obtain information like the phone number of a relative. If the person needs to be taken to the hospital in an ambulance or in a police vehicle, picture cards explaining the process of what’s about to happen or dry-erase cards where that process can be written out can help reassure them. The toolkit also contain items to keep a person occupied during times of stress. Individuals with autism have complex sensory needs oftentimes, so being able to provide them something to keep their hands occupied or to focus on something other than the situation at hand can help ease that anxiety and keep them calm. There’s also a business card-sized reminder card to provide a quick reference of how to approach situations that may involve someone with autism – to approach in a non-threatening way, understanding sensory needs, talking in calm tone, keeping instructions simple, etc.