Out of respect for everyone whose life is touched by someone who has autism, I have refrained from my usual “firedog-isms” in this post.
Nearly 20 years ago, the Autism Society launched a nationwide effort to promote autism awareness, to guarantee that each person with autism is given ample opportunity to achieve the highest possible quality of life. The ongoing effort to promote autism awareness, including National Autism Awareness Month, held each April, is made to encourage not only acceptance but appreciation for anyone who is diagnosed along the autism spectrum.
Autism is characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. It affects individuals from every racial, ethnic and socioeconomic background. Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs), includes autistic disorder, Rett syndrome, childhood disintegrative disorder, pervasive developmental disorder—not otherwise specified—and Asperger syndrome. ASD can be associated with intellectual disability, difficulties in motor coordination and attention and physical health issues such as sleep and gastrointestinal disturbances. Some persons with ASD excel in visual skills, music, math and art. The cause is currently unknown and, unfortunately, there is no cure.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in their most recent report, the rate of diagnosed autism cases among 8-year-olds in the United States was one out of 68 children, which is nearly twice the rate of the diagnoses the last time prevalence was officially measured, in 2004…when only one in 125 children were diagnosed. The reason for the increase in documented cases is unknown.
- Lack of or delay in spoken language
- Repetitive use of language and/or motor mannerisms (e.g., hand-flapping, twirling objects)
- Little or no eye contact
- Lack of interest in peer relationships
- Lack of spontaneous or make-believe play
- Persistent fixation on parts of objects
As emergency and disaster management professionals, we believe that autism awareness is crucial for anyone who might encounter someone who has autism during an emergency drill or actual disaster. During an emergency, for example, individuals who have autism may have difficulty distinguishing emergency responders from strangers. As a result, they may shut down or even become combative.
The RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services provides tailor-made instructions designed to aid family members, neighbors and friends in assisting anyone on the spectrum before, during and after emergency situations. We also provide our subscribers with Autism Emergency Contact Forms, to be completed by family members or caretakers, which quickly educate first-responders about anyone who has autism in our subscriber’s high-rise buildings.
Five Tips for Helping Autistic Individuals in an Emergency:
- Be prepared. Some individuals with autism do not have a normal range of sensations and may not feel cold, heat, or pain in a typical manner. They may show unusual pain responses, which could include laughter, humming, singing and/or removing of clothing.
- Be aware. Individuals with autism often have tactile sensory issues. So the use of Band-Aids or other adhesive products could increase their anxiety and aggression.
- Move slowly. Explain what you plan to do in advance and as you do it. Explain where you are going and what they may see and who they may encounter. This could potentially lessen unnecessary anxiety and/or outbursts and aggression. If possible, handle this exchange in a quiet spot.
- Expect the unexpected. Children with autism might ingest something hazardous. And people with ASD at any age may fail to acknowledge pain, despite the presence of significant pathology. So carefully inspect for injuries.
- Give a reward and stay calm. Stickers and stuffed animals can be used to calm young children as well as older patients.
Remember that safety is a daily priority. So be sure to think about ways to #BeSafe all of the time, whether or not Autism Spectrum Disorders affect your daily life. A convenient and affordable way to make sure you are prepared for disasters and emergencies of virtually every kind is to subscribe to the RJWestmore Training System by Universal Fire/Life Safety Services, which has been designed to help improve and save lives. For more information about the best system out there, or to subscribe, click here.