Prince Rupert Fire Rescue first responders have completed month-long training to better assist children and adults with autism in emergencies, Chad Cooper, deputy fire chief said, on Nov. 3.
Autism Canada provided the training and equipped the fire department with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) sensory kits.
“The sensory kits are now in service on frontline fire trucks,” Cooper said. “At Prince Rupert Fire Rescue, we always strive to serve our community better and provide the highest level of care.”
Each sensory kit is designed to calm children or help them better communicate their thoughts and feelings. The kits contain fidget toys and tools like noise-cancelling headphones that help relax youngsters and keep their minds off potentially stressful situations.
“As first responders, firefighters may encounter a person with autism struggling to keep calm in an emergency situation when people are bustling, and sirens are blaring,” Cooper said.
The deputy chief said people with autism are more vulnerable to negative encounters with police and first responders due to communication gaps. Common behaviours of people with autism may be mistaken for unusual behaviours in others without autism.
Cooper said individual cases vary widely, but people with autism tend to struggle with sensory inputs through hyper-sensitivity or difficulty communicating or using fine motor skills.
“One individual might be very hypersensitive to the lights and sirens. Another individual might be very attracted to the lights and sirens or the fire, which can be very dangerous,” he explained.
“The challenge for first responders then, if they aren’t intimately familiar with the disorder or the individual, is knowing how to adapt to the person’s needs,” the deputy fire chief said, providing some statistics on ASD.
Boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls; 40 per cent of children with autism do not speak; 25 per cent of individuals with autism are nonverbal; and 49 per cent of children with autism wander from a safe environment.
K-J Millar | Journalist
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