For individuals with autism, learning to interact with first responders is critical. It is just as essential for first responders to understand autism and be prepared to respond effectively and safely to situations that arise involving individuals on the spectrum.
With that, here are 7 things people with autism want first responders to know...
"We know you are not our 'friends' and have a job to do, but treat us like your best friend. As individuals with autism, we will not comply well with aggressive tactics that will ultimately conjur a lifetime of memories involving bullying and exploitation. Remind us how things will be alright especially with our cooperation, and ask if there is anything you may do to make the process easier for us. Most importantly, ask if we have autism when you have the slightest inkling something may be a little 'off.' There have been numerous misunderstandings in society that have been resolved with no lingering trauma because the authority figures showed the mercy and compassion that had been denied by other citizens who were not on patrol that were guided by blind ignorance."
- Jesse Saperstein
“Due to sensory issues from autism, when I am afraid or experiencing anxiety I may not respond to your questions like everyone else. I may shutdown completely or overreact. Typical people are wired neurologically like bottle water, not much happening. My neurological makeup is closer to carbonated Mountain Dew. When shaken, watch out!”
- Ron Sandison
"I would want first responders to know that sometimes, people with autism are very scared when first responders approach them because of the masks, suits, the yelling, and the disaster that's happening. I would also want them to know that autistic people have a more sensitivity to our senses and because of that, we experience pain more or less than the average person does when they're hurt. I also want them to know that we can tell if someone is stressed out and that it stresses us out. I think what would help us out a lot is if first responders approach us calmly and use gentle voices with us so we're not so stressed out and scared. I also think what would help is first responders having a spare teddy bear, stress ball, or anything that we could squeeze or hug because it helps us calm down and release tension and stressed."
- Taylor Orns
"Being on the autism spectrum can present plenty of challenges in everyday life, and these challenges can be even more intense when it comes to an emergency situation. First responders are often unaware of these challenges or how to handle them, which sometimes can lead to greater tragedy. Remember above all else that when you give instructions to an autistic person, we may be so overwhelmed by the emergency situation that we are unable to respond or signal understanding the way a neurotypical person would. But we are not purposely disobeying or resisting you; we are trying our best to cope with unbearable emotional and sensory overload."
- Amy Gravino
“Autism is not a tragedy. Ignorance is the tragedy.’ For those first responders out there who educate themselves about those with autism to fight that ignorance in our society I’d just like to say thank you. When I present about growing up with autism I often say everyone you meet will have their own unique challenges but by being aware and accepting your impact will make a difference in our community.“
- Kerry Magro
Autism Speaks is committed to educating first responders about autism and best practices to help keep individuals on the spectrum safe in potentially dangerous situations through training, awareness and resources. To learn more, contact the Autism Response Team at 888-288-4762 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Find other safety-related resources from Autism Speaks here.