On a Saturday in August, and again in late October, I had the honor of presenting to a group of Fairfax County first responders. A few years ago, one of the individuals had been sent to Growing Kids Therapy Center (GKTC) to help the staff when I became dysregulated. At the time, Elizabeth had offered to put together a training for first responders to help them when working with autistics in emergency situations. Four years later that same individual, now in the position to organize the training, walked through the doors of GKTC to try to finally make it happen.
Heartfelt thanks go out to those in the field. Continuing to do what you do each and every day has to be one of the most difficult careers that exists! My suggestions are to help those who desire our autistic members of the community to have a more positive experience when faced with a situation that is already traumatizing to begin with!
For us, it is all too often that we are thought to not understand what is being said, and so we are perhaps completely disregarded or spoken to like children. The reality is that while we may not be able to speak, we comprehend everything. Taking the time to speak directly to us knowing that we are listening, whether it appears that way or not, will always help us to feel a bit more comfortable! Listening does not look a certain way for us, so trust that we hear and understand you, even if it appears that we are not listening. For us, it is all too often that we are thought to not understand what is being said, and so we are perhaps completely disregarded or spoken to like children. The reality is that while we may not be able to speak, we comprehend everything. Taking the time to speak directly to us knowing that we are listening, whether it appears that way or not, will always help us to feel a bit more comfortable!
Listening does not look a certain way for us, so trust that we hear and understand you, even if it appears that we are not listening. The reality is that men and women in the professions of first responders and firefighters will at some point find themselves in a professional situation that includes those with autism. It is unfortunate that most first responders receive lots of training, however very little dealing with autistics, and even less targeting issues that pertain to nonspeakers. Challenging bodies can make it extremely difficult for a first responder, however there are some things one can do to make it a more successful interaction.
It’s difficult for us to make our bodies stay calm or regulated in the best of circumstances, and so maintaining a regulated bodyin an emergency situation will be nearly impossible! Have the person that is the most regulated or the calmest be the one that is addressing the individual with autism. It will potentially give us a bit of co-regulation if we are unable to stay regulated on our own. Depending on others to help us stay calm means that if there are others there who are being loud it will often help us if you are able to keep them quiet or calm too! Removing them from the situation may also be helpful.
Giving us space to have a chance to regulate from a distance may be necessary if more injurious things are happening. Please understand that in those instances, we are not in control of our bodies and that our actions are not purposeful or intentional. There are many of us who unfortunately experience moments like this when dysregulated, and I can promise you that we do not want to hurt ourselves or anyone else! Our bodies are out of our control! The most important thing to remember is that we can understand everything, even if we are unable to respond.
I thank you all for taking the time to read this blog and for your willingness to educate yourselves on this matter. Having more first responders who understand autism and nonspeakers will hopefully enable you to better handle situations in which we are involved.
Ian has been Spelling to Communicate since 2014. He loves to learn, has a strong work ethic, and is a passionate self-advocate. Ian has taken part in coursework at The University of Virginia as well as George Washington University. He seizes any opportunity to further his education and continues to feed his hunger for knowledge by taking courses at GKTC and online.
Ian is a founding member of I&I Guys, a small business and self-advocacy group, where he oversees production and serves as the community liaison. He recently served on the Town of Herndon’s ‘Youth Advisory Council’ alongside his neurotypical peers. He also worked alongside local law enforcement, first responders, and community officials to provide them with a pamphlet guideline on how to interact with autistics. Ian is passionate about inclusion and acceptance, as well as access to meaningful communication.