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First responders train for emergency situations dealing with autistic individuals

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- April is National Autism Awareness month, and the Leadership Huntsville/Madison County organization wanted to hold an event that would benefit the community as well as individuals with autism and those affected by it.

The parking lot of the Torch Technologies Freedom Center was littered with first responder vehicles Wednesday morning --Fire and Rescue, the 911 call center, police departments and sheriff's offices-- all participating in training for how to respond to situations in which an individual with autism is involved.

"Even being able to understand basic commands like stop, stay here, sit down, or come with me, can be misinterpreted as a threat," said Melody Crane, executive director of the Riley Center.

When first responders are called to a home, it's typically when there is a crisis. The training and teaching in Wednesday's seminar focused on how to diffuse those situations when someone with a mental disability is involved and to communicate in a calm and effective manner.

"Using very calm, precise language, not a lot of extraneous type of communication, basic commands," Crane said.

The training session included talks with Jacob, a young man on the autism spectrum, and used communication lessons with him as an example. We learned that keeping him calm and happy is easy-- just ask him about his favorite movie, or, about his t-shirt.

"What is your favorite movie of all time, what do you like to watch more than anything?" Jacob immediately responded with, "The Last Jedi!"

"We know with autism, social interactions are very impaired," Crane said. "So that's why it's very important to raise that awareness with first responders, letting them know a little bit more about individuals with autism, but also equally, what do we need to do as providers and as parents, so that might be more successful."

Organizers stress-- this is about autism awareness and community impact.