Autism Tough Foundation - Fire Departments & EMT


Autism Tough Foundation has had the privilege to present information regarding Autism to several local fire and EMT departments. During the presentation they provide tips and suggestions on how to identify a person with special needs in a time of crisis. They group then provides the departments with sensory back packs. These back packs contain numerous items to assist the special needs individual. Below is listed some information for first responders to help aid a special needs individual.

Quick Facts for Firefighters

People with autism can’t be identified by appearance. They look the same as anyone else. They’re identified by their behavior.

Some people with autism do not have a typical range of sensations and may not feel the cold, heat, or pain in a typical manner. In fact they may fail to acknowledge pain in spite of significant pathology being present. They may show an unusual pain response that could include laughter, humming, singing and removing of clothing.

Speak in short clear phrases “Get in.” “Sit Down.” “Wait here.” An people with autism may take longer to respond to directives, and that can be because they don’t understand what’s being demanded of them, or even just because they’re scared, they may not be able to process the language and understand a directive when fearful.

When restraint is necessary during fire emergency, be aware that many people with autism may have a poorly developed upper trunk area. Positional asphyxiation could occur if steps are not taken to prevent it: frequent change of position, not keeping them face down. People with autism may continue to resist restraint during a fire emergency.

Adults with autism are just as likely to hide, like children, in a fire situation. Closets, under bed and behind furniture checks need to be done during search and rescue.

People with autism are a wandering or bolt risk after rescue. Firefighter must stay with the person with autism or hand off to another caregiver.

Quick Facts for EMT’s

Some people with autism do not have a normal range of sensations and may not feel the cold, heat, or pain in a typical manner. In fact they may fail to acknowledge pain in spite of significant pathology being present. They may show an unusual pain response that could include laughter, humming, singing and removing of clothing.

People with autism often have tactile sensory issues. Band-aids or other adhesive products could increase anxiety and aggression.

Move slowly, performing exams distal to proximal. 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 might be there. This may avert unnecessary anxiety and/or outbursts or aggressions from the patient. People who appear not to understand may have better receptive language, which is not entirely evident.

Expect the unexpected. Children with autism may ingest something or get into something without their parents realizing it. Look for less obvious causality and inspect carefully for other injuries.

If possible, ask a caregiver what level of support the person with autism needs, then treat accordingly. Stickers, stuffed animals and such which are used to calm young children may be helpful even in older patients.

Attempt to perform exams in a quiet spot if at all possible, depending on the severity of injury and safety of the scene. Demonstrating what the exam will consist of on another person first may help the person with autism have a visual knowledge of what your intentions are.

We can not thank our local first responders enough for all they do! If any local department would be interested in Autism Tough coming to their station to do a presentation and receive a sensory bag, please contact us on Facebook or email at autismtoughfoundation@gmail.com


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