Posted by on Nov 18, 2013 in First Responder, Medical Facilities | 0 comments

First Responders

Autism Awareness First Responders

Training for Emergency Responders on Autism – a Police Officer’s View

Autism & Law Enforcement: Roll Call Briefing Video

Autism, Fire-Rescue and Emergency Medical Service Video

Autism in the Criminal Justice System Video

Autism on Scene Response Cards

2338 SE Holland Street
Port Saint Lucie FL 34952
phone: 772-398-9756
(son with autism may answer phone)
fax: 772-398-2428

New! **For a full PDF of the entire Autism Safety Project, click here.

First Responders
The Autism Safety Project provides First Responders with information and guidelines for communicating with individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in emergency situations.

Individuals with ASD: Response to Emergencies
“If you’ve met one person with autism – you’ve met one person with autism.” Stephen Shore

Autism manifests itself differently in each individual with ASD, varying in severity and symptoms. While there are often common behaviors across the autism spectrum, there is no single one that is always typical of an individual with ASD. This can make it difficult for a safety professional to react accordingly, which is critical for both a successful interaction and the safety of these individuals.

Information on Autism Spectrum Disorder – Print Version of Autism Basics PDF

First Responders Training
The overall goal of First Responder Training is to ensure the safety of ALL involved in an emergency situation. Important points to include when training First Responders are:    

  • Identification of medical and behavioral risks associated with individuals with ASD
  • Options for risk management 
  • Common Characteristics of individuals with ASD

Click here to go to the Autism Speaks Community Connections’ First Responders page!

A Collaborative Effort: Families and First Responders
The Autism Safety Project supports family participation in order to ensure that the most effective and safe responses to emergency situations are provided to individuals with ASD.

Be Prepared with Emergency Information at your Fingertips!
Emergency Information at a Glance – PDF

Create an Informational Handout for First Responders!
Emergency Information for Individuals with the Autism Spectrum Disorder – PDF 
A special thanks to the Safety Professionals and Parent Advisory Committee,
the Family Services Committee, and all those who helped
to make Autism Safety Project possible.

“First Responders” are those public safety officials – such as police officers or firefighters – who respond to emergency situations. On a daily basis these first responders encounter a multitude of individuals in emergency situations. Just as each
emergency differs from the next, so does the individual involved, especially in regards to individuals with autism spectrum disorders. It is very likely that over your child’s lifetime, he or she will encounter the police or other first responders. This month’s Community Connections focuses on what you can do to be most prepared for these situations.

Be Prepared for an Autism Emergency – Plan Your Response
An Autism Emergency information handout should be developed, copied, and carried with you at all times. Click here to see an example.

The handout should cover the following information:

  • Name of child or adult
  • Current photograph and physical description including height, weight, eye and hair color, any scars or other identifying marks
  • Names, home, cell and pager phone numbers and addresses of parents, other caregivers and emergency contact persons
  • Sensory, medical or dietary issues and requirements
  • Inclination for elopement and any atypical behaviors or characteristics that may attract attention
  • Favorite attractions and locations where person may be found
  • Likes, dislikes – approach and de-escalation techniques
  • Methods of communication, if non-verbal sign language, picture boards, written word
  • ID wear, jewelry, tags on clothes, printed hand out card
  • Map and address guide to nearly properties with water spruces and dangerous locations highlighted
  • Blueprint or drawing of home, with bedrooms of individuals highlighted

Skills for Children and Less Independent Adults
Form partnerships with teachers and law enforcement professionals to help develop a simple curriculum that helps expand skills that will enhance their safety in the community and build personal resilience to risk. Invite a variety of law enforcers to sit among (not stand in front of) students. Officers can participate in mock interviews, for example, by asking the student what their name is and if they have an ID card. Examples of curriculum could include:

  • Recognizing and responding as best they can to law enforcers, their uniforms, badges and vehicles
  • Stay with and/or go to police and other uniformed first responders
  • Keep an appropriate distance when interacting with a law enforcer
  • Avoid making sudden movements
  • Carry and safely produce an ID card
  • Disclose their autism and/or produce an autism information card
  • Tell someone they need help or use the phone to request it

Build Skills for More Independent Adolescents or Adults with Autism or Asperger Syndrome
People with autism who are able to navigate the community without assistance should strongly consider developing a personal handout for the police and develop the skills and resiliency to risk disclosure of their need for accommodation. Remember that the initial uniformed contact with police presents the highest potential for negative outcomes.

Develop a handout card that can be easily copied and laminated. It can be generic or specific to you. The person with autism should carry it with them at all times and give away to the officer or other emergency personnel on the scene.

An example of what a handout card could look like (Debbaudt, 2006b)


  • I have autism or Asperger Syndrome.
  • I will be anxious in new situations or with new people.
  • I may be confused by standard interview or interrogation techniques and produce a misleading statement or false confession.
  • I may not fully understand the consequences of my actions.
  • Please contact a professional who is familiar with autism or Asperger Syndrome. Call the following professional: ______________________

Further Suggestions to Consider During Interactions with Police:

  • Do not attempt to flee.
  • Do not make sudden movements.
  • Try to remain calm.
  • Verbally let the officer know you have autism. If nonverbal, use alternative communication tools, such as a simple sign language card that indicates the need to write.
  • Obtain permission or signal intentions before reaching into a coat or pants pocket or reaching into a car glove box.
  • If unable to answer questions, consider using autism information card.
  • If you lose the ability to speak when under stress, considering wearing an alert bracelet or necklace that is easy to see.
  • Ask the officer to contact an advocate if necessary and possible.
  • Carry the phone number of an advocacy organization or personal advocate, relative, or friend.

Dennis Debbaudt is the proud father of Brad, a young man who has autism. A professional investigator and law enforcement trainer, Dennis has authored and co-authored over 30 articles and books since 1993 including Autism, Advocates and Law Enforcement Professionals: Recognizing and Reducing Risk Situations for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders, articles for the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin (April 2001), and many other law enforcement and autism publications.

Build Safety Skills as Part of Your Daily Routine
Learning to recognize that men and women in uniform are people you can go to and stay with during an emergency is a lesson we all learn. People with autism can learn these lessons when we teach them these safety skills at home, reinforce them at school and practice them in the community.They are learned best when they are delivered early and often and are suited to a child or adult’s age and ability levels

 Source Autism Speaks

Download the latest version of the Adobe PDF Reader to view these files:

Source Autism Risk and Management
FOR LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALSIf you work in law enforcement, chances are you will encounter a child or adult with autism, or be involved in searching for an individual who has wandered. An increase in autism cases (up from 1 in 10,000 in the 80’s to 1 in 110 today) is the likely reason for more wandering cases and deaths, and first responders play a critical role in preventing these deaths.

Deaths associated with wandering are attributed in large part to drowning. Individuals with autism are often attracted to water, yet have little to no sense of danger. Deaths in the past have also been caused by prolonged exposure.

There are four important tools that can be used to improve response time and prevent fatalities including: 1) Having readily available information about an individual who may wander; 2) Tracking Technology; 3) Alert Systems, such as AMBER and Silver Alerts; 4) Training on how to properly interact with a person who has autism.


Having detailed information on file about someone who is prone to wandering can be very effective in locating them quickly. If your agency does not have a program in place specific to autism wandering, consider distributing a First Responder Alert Form through your web site or grassroots initiatives. Alert Forms may also be found in multiple languages at

Having caregivers fill out this information before their child with autism wanders could give your agency a head start in properly responding to an emergency situation.


There are various resources to help law enforcement agencies, including tracking technology such as Project Lifesaver and LoJack SafetyNet programs. The cost to implement these programs is extremely low compared to one search and rescue effort and have remarkable track records in recovering individuals quickly.

To learn more about these programs, please review the following links:


Several years ago, Silver Alerts were established as a rapid-response communications tool to help locate missing seniors with cognitive impairments, such as Alzheimer’s and Dementia.

Many states have since adopted the Silver Alert program and often refer to it as the “AMBER Alerts for Seniors” with criteria that allows those 18 and older with a cognitive impairment to be covered. However, AMBER Alerts in most states are only designated for abducted children, 17 or younger.

Therefore, a person with autism who is 18+ may be covered under an alert system, but a person with autism who is under 18 may not.

Because there have been numerous cases where a child with autism was found by a member of the public, it’s important to review alert guidelines within your state and, if possible, issue an AMBER Alert (or the like) when possible. 

Many children with autism who appear old enough to walk alone are often at great risk, especially those that are nonverbal, cannot ask for help, or are unable to respond to their name when called.

If your agency receives a call about a missing person with autism, issuing a public alert can make an enormous difference in how quickly they are found. Some points to consider for your agency include:

  • Issuing an AMBER Alert for any minor with a known cognitive impairment like autism. These children are endangered and have little to no sense of danger.
  • Issuing a Silver Alert or the like for any adult with a known cognitive impairment like autism. These adults likely function cognitively as a minor, are endangered and have little to no sense of danger.
  • Do not impose any waiting periods on any child or adult with a known cognitive impairment or disability.
  • Enter the missing person into the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) Database.

To learn about Silver Alerts in your state, click here.

You can also enroll your agency in the A Child Is Missing program at no charge. This program will send an automated call to neighborhoods where a missing child was last seen.

Take Me Home is a free software program available to law enforcement agencies from the Pensacola Police Department. This software allows you to create a database with information on individuals who may be at risk of wandering, and to collect information that may be helpful in the event of a search. To request your free copy of Take Me Home, contact Officer Donahoe at


Autism presents a unique set of needs. Law Enforcement training on how to interact with, and respond to, a person with autism is critical. Several organizations and individuals offer autism risk and safety management training for your agency. To review these options, please visit:

Autism Risk Management
The Autism & Law Enforcement Education Coalition
The Law Enforcement Awareness Network
Autism Alliance for Local Emergency Responder Training

To learn more, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions page.
Source National Autism Association Awaare

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