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Lifesaving Autism Training for First Responders

This post is a spotlight on Pathfinders for Autism, a 2013 Autism Speaks Chapter Grant recipient. With funding from Autism Speaks, Shelly McLaughlin and Trish Kane at  Pathfinders for Autism developed Understanding Autism Spectrum Disorders, a well-rounded first responder curriculum which meets the mandated autism training requirements that all Maryland officers must undergo. 

With the prevalence of autism now estimated by the CDC at 1 in 68, it is critical for all first responders to learn best practices for responding to emergency situations involving a person with autism. Through the 2013 Chapter Grants program, Autism Speaks was excited to provide $5,000 for the development of a vital training curriculum for first responders! The goal is to train those who serve the autism community on a daily basis and often in high-stress situations, where a practical understanding of autism can mean the difference between safety and harm. The training provides law enforcement and first responders with "scenario-based" instruction with practical application in the field and a balance of factual information and practical tips and strategies. Participants leave their sessions with a comprehensive understanding as to why this autism training is important and how it will play into their daily work experience.

Unfortunately, as the weather gets warmer, the number of people with autism who wander from safety will continue to rise. Having a comprehensive safety plan is imperative for families of the many individuals with autism who are prone to wandering. But when a wandering emergency occurs, trained first responders will know to ask what social and sensory elements may or may not work in finding that individual safely. This autism training can assist first responders in the difficult job they do every day — protecting and serving our community — by helping them to understand how best to interact with individuals with autism. For families of people with autism prone to wandering, knowing that local first responders participated in training about autism brings some peace of mind.

Last year, Autism Speaks staff attended one of the Pathfinders for Autism first responder trainings being offered to law enforcement officers from Harford County Sheriff's Office in Maryland. Pathfinders for Autism staffmembers Shelly McLaughlin and Trish Kane presented alongside Detective Janelle E. Myers of the Harford County Sheriff's Office.

"The training provided law enforcement with a valuable opportunity to learn about autism through real life scenarios and engaging activities," said Autism Speaks staffer Meaghan Pawley. "We could tell it struck a chord with many of the attendees because they asked to be involved in future autism training events.”

The Pathfinders for Autism curriculum will be used by the Autism Speaks Community Outreach team to provide additional first responder autism awareness trainings in communities across the country. Email for more information!

For information about scheduling Pathfinders for Autism training in Maryland, download the Pathfinders for Autism First Responder Training brochure here 

The Autism Speaks blog features opinions from people throughout the autism community. Each blog represents the point of view of the author and does not necessarily reflect Autism Speaks' beliefs or point of view.