• First responders learn more about autism

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  • Katie Peterson | Staff Writer
    When Department of the Army civilian police responded to a call two months ago at the Fort Leavenworth Commissary, they didn’t expect to find a young boy with autism upset that his parents would not allow him to get Mexican food.
    “That’s when I thought about it,” said DA civilian police officer Juan Guzman. “We need a class. We need training on this because a lot of people don’t know. We don’t know. The first thing people are going to say is ‘Oh, they don’t know what they’re doing.’”
    With that thought in mind, Fort Leavenworth first responders — including DA civilian and military police officers, firefighters and lifeguards — gathered for an autism training session Feb. 14 at the Resiliency Center.
    Jennifer Burford, installation Exceptional Family Member Program manager at Army Community Service, organized the training.
    “There are 637 exceptional family members of active-duty military on this installation right now. Over half of those are children. We have between 60 and 90 children on this installation that have developmental disabilities and that’s where the (Autism Spectrum Disorder) falls (and) according to recent statistics, people with (ASD) are seven times more likely to come in contact with law enforcement than the general population,” Burford said.
    “The MPs approached me about doing this training because you all wanted to be proactive in what you’re doing in your community that you see that there is a growing need for this kind of intervention and to have this knowledge base. The states of Florida and Illinois, it’s law in those states that their first responders, their police officers, their (emergency medical service), their emergency room physicians and (registered nurses) actually have to go through training on autism.”
    During the training, attendees were briefed on ASD, the signs, symptoms and behaviors associated with the disorder by Courtney June, clinical supervisor designee for the Center for Autism and Related Disorders in Springfield, Mo., before watching two training videos on autism targeted for first responders. According to statistics, in the 1970s one in 5,000 people were diagnosed with ASD. Now, one in 53 are diagnosed for a total of three million in the United States alone, June said.
    In the military community, the statistics are one in 44 individuals and Burford said that Fort Leavenworth is often a primary installation for EFMP families.
    “Human Resource Command Special Actions EFMP at the Department of Army level, they know that we can support these families here, so they’re going to keep coming to be assigned here (because) … we have all these wonderful facilities and then, through outreach and networking with our community, we’ve actually been able to bring in service providers that have relocated their practices and have come into the Leavenworth community outside of the gate.”
    Page 2 of 3 - The videos highlighted the several different types of autistic people like, wanderers who classify 49 percent of people diagnosed with autism, and different signs and symptoms — unusual speech; sensitivity to sound, light and touch; or covering their ears.
    One thing first responders were asked to note was an autistic individual’s attraction to water, which is why Burford said teaching children with autism to swim is vital.
    “Sadly, 91 percent of children who drown in the United States have (ASD),” she said. “All young children should be taught how to swim; and with this statistical data, it is of vital importance to provide swimming lessons to children with autism especially when there are swimming pools and other water sources nearby.”
    Grant and Hancock Pools Head Lifeguard Thula Stenerson said this was important to note in her job, especially since the current lifeguards are aware of a few children who have autism who come to the pools regularly.
    “It helps us better serve our patrons (and) it helps us better identify what we might be dealing with. In this situation, we’re by the water and like they said, it’s the most common place for them to go, and we see that a lot with the couple that we do know. It’s a good identifier,” Stenerson said. “(The training) really gave us some understanding and what to pass on to our guards that are really going to be out there on the water.”
    Burford said she hoped the training helped attendees gain additional information along with what they have already been taught.
    “I’m hoping that this training provides our first responders with additional tools to put in their toolbox and enhances their knowledge of autism and other developmental disabilities,” she said. “It also reinforces the training they have already had regarding safety being paramount in everything they do.”
    Though this was the first time for the autism training, since 2011, with the help of the fire department, EFMP has put in place the Caring and Sharing program as a resource families can use to help prepare first responders when coming to a home with a disabled resident. The Caring and Sharing program is a voluntary program in which families can contact EFMP, provide information about their exceptional family member and complete a form that is then turned over to the fire department and the information is then relayed to the dispatcher so it comes up when a call comes through for that home.
    “It would provide peace of mind to the families and provide vital information to the first responders handling a crisis call. In addition, the children would become more comfortable around these authority figures, familiarize them with their uniforms, equipment, the canines and their vehicles and not to be afraid to take directions from a first responder,” Burford said.
    Page 3 of 3 - “(The firefighters) wanted to make sure that, since we are the best hometown in the Army, that we welcome our families, to really make them feel like home and in the community in which they live…It was a way for the fire department to give back to their community.”
    EFMP also hosts Camp SOAR each summer for children with disabilities, including autism, providing opportunities to play games, spend time with horses and do arts and crafts. Fort Leavenworth firefighters regularly participate as buddies at Camp SOAR each year.
    “This might be the perfect location to invite all of our first responders to have a meet and greet with the children and their families,” Burford said.
    This year Camp SOAR is June 5-7 at Hunt Lodge and marks the 10th anniversary for the summer camp. EFMP is looking for volunteers for Camp SOAR. Volunteers will serve as camp buddies for the children and help them navigate the camp activities and help keep the children safe. If interested, call Burford at 684-2800.
    World Autism Awareness Day is April 2 and EFMP will be at the Exchange from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. with information packets for anyone interested in learning more about autism.
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