Autism Spectrum Disorder emergency training session held at YMCA

Sergeant Brent Reeves, a member of the Special Victims Section of the Greenwich Police Department describes how to fill out a registration form for an individual with ASD. Photo by Chèye Roberson

Sergeant Brent Reeves, a member of the Special Victims Section of the Greenwich Police Department, describes how to fill out a registration form with emergency contact information for an individual with ASD. Photo by Chèye Roberson

By Chéye Roberson
Sentinel Reporter

A training session to help people respond to an emergency situation involving an individual with Autism Spectrum Disorder was held at the YMCA of Greenwich on Sunday.

The presenters included retired Captain Bill Cannata of the Westwood, Mass. Fire Department; Sergeant Brent Reeves, a member of the Special Victims Section of the Greenwich Police Department and Linda Talbert, the Abilis director of Therapeutic and Advisory Services.

Talbert went over how to identify the characteristics and behaviors of a person with ASD as well as ways to effectively communicate them.

Cannata, who has a son with ASD, is the current program director of the Autism Law Enforcement Coalition. Cannata was able to share his own experiences with trying to keep his son out of danger and solutions he discovered with those in attendance.

Reeves was there to discuss give insight to the police side of responding to missing special victims and using the SafetyNet Tracking System.

The session focused heavily on the resources that are available to families living with someone, particularly a child, on the spectrum as well as the steps that can be taken before an emergency situation occurs.

Cannata informed the crowd that residents can request for a police officer come to their home and meet their child with ASD so that the officer and police department can become more familiar with the child and their condition.

Another measure that can be taken is filling out a registration form with emergency contact information and a current photo identification of the child so that this it can be placed into the 911-emergencey system. Cannata passed around examples these of registration forms for the people in attendance.

If the child was reported missing, the police would be able to pull up the information and photograph to aid in their search.

Cannata said that many individuals with ASD, up to 50 percent, are prone to wander. Having this information can shorten the amount of time a police officer spends asking questions when responding to an emergency call in one of these cases. The information can also be sent directly to a police officer’s cell phone.

“Time is of the essence in these situations,” said Cannata.

Cannata said to make sure you do a check around your house and the front and back yard even after you have called the police. He said that parents can often be afraid to call the police out of fear of repercussions for having lost their child. However, the police are there to help parents find the missing child and are aware that caring for an individual with ASD is difficult.

Cannata suggested that parents also make a form and place it in the students’ back pack.

“No matter what level of function they have, they need to be able to identify themselves,” said Cannata. “When they’re asked questions they can answer even when they can’t speak.”

Cannata said that he spent a few months working with his son on responding to this sort of scenario by reaching into his pocket and getting his ID card.

The ID card should include an emergency contact number, name, address, photograph, and a physical description.

“My son had a bi-fold with his information and picture inside of it, so that if law enforcement found him they would be able to respond to him,” said Cannata.

Another way that a child with ASD who is non-verbal can carry emergency contact information is with a phone. Smart phones like the iPhone have a button labeled “Emergency” that an officer can press which will allow access only to the emergency contact information on the phone.

An international program referred to as ICE, which stands for In Case of Emergency, has an app that can be downloaded onto Apple and Android phones which gives access to a fact sheet containing information such as who to contact, description, and any allergies or other medical conditions.

Cannata also suggested purchasing alarms that can alert you when the front or back door has been opened which he used in his home.

“That worked for us because there was a time when all he wanted to do was go out,” said Cannata.

Many individuals with ASD who wander are found near attractive hazards areas like construction sites, bodies of water including pools, lakes, rivers, as well as train and traffic areas. These are also the first places that first responders check when a child with ASD is missing. Cannata said that bodies of water are should be searched regardless of the weather conditions.

SafetyNet is a tracking system which uses a radio transmitter to help locate an individual with ASD who wears an accompanying bracelet. People with other disorders or diseases that cause a desire to wander, such as Alzheimer’s, also qualify for this program.

If the individual went missing, a police officer would go to their last known location with the transmitter and do a circle to see which direction the they walked off into. The transmitter can read up to a mile. It can be placed on a police cruiser which can then read a distance of one-half a mile.

Import highlights of the presentation for those with loved-ones who have ASD and are prone to wander were that parents should call 911 as soon as they realized their child or loved-one is missing, can let their neighbors know that they have a child with ASD who may be prone to wander, secure the locks and doors of your home, introduce the individual with ASD to members of the local police department, and have your loved-one with ASD carry an ID card and possibly a medical alert bracelet.


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