Autism and Emergency Services

Greetings Earthlings! 🙂

Following the recent violent shooting of an unarmed, 13 year old autist by police in America during a meltdown (thankfully he is recovering in hospital), this week I’d like to discuss the importance of adequately educating our emergency services and first responders about autism.

emergency services

In this situation, Linden Cameron’s mother called 911 for assistance as Linden was experiencing a bad meltdown due to separation anxiety, and needed help to de-escalate the situation with the minimal amount of force. Shortly after arrival however, the police shot Linden multiple times instead of using lesser means of force (they claimed that he was armed, but this was not the case).

While the issue of police brutality in the States is an entirely separate debate, this incident really highlights the need to properly educate the emergency services about autistic behaviours.

Autists can’t always regulate their behaviours and emotions, especially when they are in distress. Loud noises and flashing lights from emergency vehicles can further impact this stress from a sensory perspective and make situations worse. Autists are also quite sensitive to touch, and as such, physical interactions could cause an autist to attack a responder. 

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Here are some tips to keep in mind when interacting with a distressed autist/suspected autist:

Patience- always be patient when dealing with an autist and give them some space. Try to void making quick movements or loud noises that may distress them further. They may have difficulty communicating with you, so give them plenty of time to process and respond.

Try to use clear, concise language– avoid confusing sentences or turns of phrase that they might interpret literally (e.g it’s raining cats and dogs). They may already be struggling to process their situation, and too many words could be even more overwhelming.

Avoid touching an autist– unless absolutely necessary. Touch sensitivities could escalate the situation and an autist may react violently in defense.

Watch out for potential triggers that may escalate the situation– be conscious of potential sources of distress such as sensory sensitivities which could further agitate an autist. 

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Listen- take advice from caregivers (if present) or the autist themselves (as some autists may be able to communicate during a meltdown on some level). They will have a better understanding of their individual needs than you do. 

At the end of the day however, there is no substitute for a proper training program for emergency responders/law enforcement. Many autism charities run these programs such as AsIAm here in Ireland.

You can read more advice for the emergency services here:

http://asiam.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/emergency_servicesFinal.pdf 

Hope you found this post helpful dear Earthlings! 🙂

Enjoy the weekend!

Aoife

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