Bill Cannata a Captain with the Westwood MA Fire Department conducted a training session for the New Rochelle Fire Department to teach New Rochelle's first responders how to to identify persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and how best to help them in an emergency. The session one of several he is providing this week to the different shifts. His fire/rescue autism program has educated more than 15,000 first responders.
Cannata explained how people with ASD may react to an emergency situation by getting out of control, acting aggressive, or simply shutting down -- they may walk back into a burning building, run away or assault rescue personnel. He provided examples including several based on his son Ted who is a 21-year old with autism.
Cannata is the Coordinator of the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC). The ALEC Project is supported in part with funding from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Autism Spectrum Division. He speaks all over the country, running training sessions and speaking at conferences. He is a consultant to the Autism, Fire-Rescue and Emergency Medical Services video.
Cannata began the presentation by playing a video of a story on NBC's Today Show which featured Bill and Ted Cannata.
Fire Captain Cannata explained to the first responders that people on the autism spectrum may not understand what is said to them or appear deaf. They may be unable to speak or speak with difficulty. They may engage in repetitive behaviors, act upset for no apparent reason, appear insensitive to pain or appear anxious or nervous. They may dart away unexpectedly or even run back into a dangerous situation. They may engage in self-stimulating behaviors such as hand-flapping or rocking. And that they may not understand the law, know right from wrong, or know the consequences of his or her actions.
Cannata shared how his own son, a "biter", has sent four people to the emergency room when he reacted badly to people being in front of him who disturbed him.
He went on to offer ideas on how to cope with and manage a person with 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
Cannata pointed out signs to look for that might indicate that they are dealing with a person with autism including technology and assistive tools used by people with autism to communicate.
For further information: Fire/Rescue Autism Training