Keeping Those with Autism Safe

Kameron Patenaude, Staff Writer

Over 700,000 people are affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), which affects people’s communication and behavioral skills. As a result, some with ASD can be misunderstood as aggressive, rude, or threatening.  In an emergency situation, these different characteristics of ASD can be seen as a danger, and if the responder is unaware of the person’s disability, he or she could take unnecessary actions. Luckily, precautions are being taken to help those with Autism in dangerous situations.

“Those with Autism don’t really understand other people very well,” explained Dr. Joel Bregman, an employee at United Community Family Services (UCFS).  “Those with Autism don’t really understand safety very well; they don’t realize that certain situations can be harmful to them. They don’t have the same precautions as we do.”

Jacqueline Patenaude, a Canterbury resident, has been developing a seat belt cover that not only warns first responders of an individual’s ASD, but includes his or her personal information. “ I have a seven year old daughter with autism; she is nonverbal, so she won’t talk to most people,” explained Patendaude.

Patenaude’s other plans to keep those on the spectrum safe when in an emergency include adding a warning to the guardian’s license, and informing the police of the individual’s disability ahead of time.

Courtney Pinner, a psychiatrist at New London’s Bloom Behavioral Services, has been studying autism safety, and is an expert on approaching those on the spectrum.

“Some of the key factors [of autism safety] are trying to find out as much about [the individual] ahead of time. We try to find out about their communication levels, what triggers them, and de-escalate the situation from a distance.”

It is important to realize that no two people with Autism are the same, as ASD has a multitude of affects. Assessing danger is not a skill that those with ASD possess, and this issue can lead to unnecessary actions that make a situation worse.