At some point, most all of us will have some interaction with First Responders, whether they are law enforcement, firefighters, or EMS. Unfortunately, it is often during a time of crisis and heightened stress that we meet these individuals. While they are there to protect us, even under the best of circumstances misunderstandings can limit their ability to help, and in some cases lead to tragic results.
For someone with autism, the encounter might cause incredible stress and provoke them to behave in ways that the first responders don’t understand, possibly escalating the situation.The individual may become non-communicative or flee. They may not respond to vocal commands and may even appear intoxicated to the responder.
First Responders are often not trained in how to recognize individuals with autism or what steps they can take to resolve an encounter peacefully and safely. Training for First Responders can help, but individuals with autism can also be educated and more prepared for a potential encounter.
Introduce them to First Responders during a non-stressful event. For example, stop by the firehouse and meet some of the firefighters in uniform, look at the truck and equipment, maybe even have them turn on the siren to demonstrate to the individual what they might hear if help is on the way.
Consider the use of a “wallet card” which identifies the individual as having autism and explains a few behaviors the responder might witness and what they can do. This “wallet card” stays with the individual’s regular ID and can be provided when a responder asks for identification.
Role Play possible scenarios in advance and help the individual know what to expect and plan how to respond. If you choose to use a wallet card, practice providing the card to the responder. If you choose to use a wallet card, the Asperger/Autism Network has a template with a helpful training video on how to use it at: Using a Wallet Card.
In addition, as someone with knowledge of autism, you can play a role in educating First Responders. Print some of the helpful fact sheets such as the one provided by Autism Society, Fact Sheet for First Responders, and stop by your local fire and police stations. Introduce yourself and start a conversation. Developing a positive relationship with First Responders can help raise autism awareness and might even save a life.