First Responders

Resources available to first responders and what trainings can be provided to help educate those first on the scene.

The Autism Society began the Safe and Sound initiative in 2005 to provide much-needed resources to the autism community on topics such as general safety, emergency preparedness and prevention, and risk management. Safe and Sound works to develop information and strategies that are beneficial to individuals on the spectrum, their families and the professionals who work with them. Another significant aspect of Safe and Sound is to provide information and training to various first responders—those who are first on the scene in an emergency situation.

The Autism Society works on the Safe and Sound initiative through a collaborative effort with Dennis Debbaudt, a law enforcement trainer with more than 10 years of experience presenting autism-related training sessions. Dennis’s book, Avoiding Unfortunate Situations, became the first resource to address the interactions between law enforcement professionals and people on the autism spectrum, and his training materials are in use by law enforcement agencies around the world. Safe and Sound helps parents and professionals identify potential public safety or criminal/juvenile justice situations and provide possible solutions so that individuals with autism and those who care for them can be prepared for, stay safe during and avoid these situations.

Created by the Autism Society, and safety expert Dennis Debbaudt, as part of the Autism Society’s Safe and Sound Initiative, the Emergency Decal can be placed on your door or automobile window to alert First Responders. A companion piece, the Personal Information Record, provides information to help primary caregivers be prepared in case of emergency and gives on-scene tips for emergency personnel. The Personal Information Record should be updated regularly and kept in a place where emergency responders have access to relevant information.

Tips for First Responders on Interacting with an Individual with Autism

People on the autism spectrum may:

  • not understand what you say
  • appear deaf
  • be unable to speak or speak with difficulty
  • engage in repetitive behaviors
  • act upset for no apparent reason
  • appear insensitive to pain
  • appear anxious or nervous
  • dart away from you unexpectedly
  • engage in self-stimulating behaviors (i.e., hand flapping or rocking)

This individual may not understand the law, know right from wrong, or know the consequences of his or her actions.

Helpful hints for interacting with someone who has autism:

  • Speak slowly and use simple language
  • Use concrete terms
  • Repeat simple questions
  • Allow time for responses
  • Give lots of praise
  • Do not attempt to physically block self-stimulating behavior
  • Remember that each individual with autism is unique and may act differently than others

The Autism Society offers a series of fact sheets and brochures to educate and support crime victim assistance professionals, individuals with autism, their families and friends. There are pieces written specifically for law enforcement officers, paramedics, emergency room staff, and more. Visit the Autism Society’s Free Downloads for PDFs and more information.

The Autism Society’s Autism Awareness Wallet Card is a colorful two-sided card that provides “helpful hints” for interacting with someone who has autism and includes special information for law enforcement or medical emergency personnel.