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Autism Speaks Launches the Autism Safety Project

Online Tool Kit Provides Information and Strategies for First Responders to Promote Safe Interactions with People Who Have Autism

NEW YORK, NY (June 11, 2009) – Autism Speaks, the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, today announced the launch of the Autism Safety Project, an online tool kit for individuals with autism, families, and first responders that provides information and strategies to promote safety in emergency situations. Created to educate and inform emergency personnel about the different challenges faced by individuals on the autism spectrum, the Autism Safety Project is available for free download at autismspeaks.org/safety

The Autism Safety Project kit is broken down into sections offering information and strategies targeted to specific categories of first responders: police, firefighters, EMS personnel, hospital emergency workers, search and rescue personnel and judicial system employees. Later this summer, the tool kit will be expanded to include information for teachers, school administrators, security personnel and emergency dispatchers. Within each section there is information about autism characteristics and strategies to facilitate safe and productive interactions. The tool kit also features materials to help families be better prepared for an emergency or crisis situation, including tools for creating an effective safety plan. In addition, there is a list of national autism information resources that includes first responder training programs and safety programs for people with disabilities.

“Situations occur every day that require first responders to interact with people who have autism,” said Peter Bell, Autism Speaks executive vice president of programs and services. “The Autism Safety Project offers information and strategies to bridge the gap that is often found between people with autism and emergency personnel and increase the access and availability of information to promote safety and awareness.”

“As a police officer, 9-1-1 instructor, and the parent of two children with autism, I feel particularly strongly about the need for greater autism awareness among first responders and encouraging safer interactions with individuals on the spectrum,” said Radcliffe Kenison, chair of Autism Speaks' Western New England Walk Now for Autism. “The Autism Safety Project kit offers valuable information that I hope many first responders will take the time to read and use on the job.”

The tool kit is a collaborative effort with first responder organizations across the country, many of which already provide training for first responders and resources to their respective communities. The information in the Autism Safety Project was compiled by autism professionals in conjunction with first responders as well as parents. An advisory committee reviewed the project and provided further input.

“The Autism Safety Project is an important tool that will benefit both individuals with autism and first responders, who are often taken aback when they encounter a person with autism in a crisis situation for the first time,” said Captain William A. Cannata, Jr., a 30-year veteranof the fire service and an officer with the Westwood, Mass., Fire Department. “We want to make first responders more familiar with some of the unique behaviors associated with autism and connect them with training programs that model positive interactions.” Captain Cannata, who served on the professional approval committee for the Autism Safety Project, is the statewide coordinator of the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC), which educates first responders across the state of Massachusetts about autism spectrum disorders and how to better understand a person who is on the spectrum. He is also the parent of a child with ASD.

About Autism
Autism is a complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral challenges. Autism spectrum disorders are diagnosed in one in 150 children in the United States, affecting four times as many boys as girls. The prevalence of autism has increased tenfold in the last decade. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have called autism a national public health crisis whose cause and cure remain unknown.

About Autism Speaks
Autism Speaks is the nation's largest autism science and advocacy organization, dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families. Autism Speaks funds more than $30 million each year in new autism research, in addition to supporting the Autism Treatment Network, Autism Genetic Resource Exchange, Autism Clinical Trials Network, Autism Tissue Program and a range of other scientific and medical programs. Notable awareness initiatives include the establishment of the annual United Nations-sanctioned World Autism Awareness Day on April 2 and an award-winning, multi-year national public service advertising campaign with the Ad Council. Autism Speaks' family services efforts include the Autism Video Glossary, a 100 Day Kit for newly-diagnosed families, a School Community Tool Kit and the distribution of community grants to local service providers. Its government relations department, through its Autism Votes initiative, has played a critical role in securing federal legislation to advance the federal government's response to autism, and has successfully advocated for insurance reform to require insurers to cover medically-necessary autism therapies. Each year, Autism Speaks Walk Now for Autism fundraising events are held in more than 70 cities across the country, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.

About the Co-Founders
Autism Speaks was founded in February 2005 by Suzanne and Bob Wright, the grandparents of a child with autism. Bob Wright is Senior Advisor at Lee Equity Partners and served as vice chairman, General Electric, and chief executive officer of NBC and NBC Universal for more than twenty years. He also serves on the board of directors of the Polo Ralph Lauren Corporation and RAND Corporation. Suzanne Wright has an extensive history of active involvement in community and philanthropic endeavors, mostly directed toward helping children. She serves on the boards of several non-profit organizations and is also Trustee Emeritus of Sarah Lawrence College, her alma mater. To learn more about Autism Speaks, please visit www.autismspeaks.org.