What's in an autism awareness card?
Here's an information-packed autism awareness card from Dennis Debbaudt, the U.S. educator who works with police forces to improve their understanding of the disorder as well as their reponse in an emergency. There's more at email@example.com
Most cards have far less detail, but importantly, include the phone number of someone who knows the person with autism and can help in a crisis.
The person you are interacting with:
May be non-verbal or have limited verbal skills
May not respond to your commands or questions
May repeat your words and phrases, your body language and emotional reactions
May have difficulty expressing needs
May display tantrums or extreme distress for no apparent reason
May laugh, giggle or ignore your presence
May display lack of eye contact
May have no fear of real danger
May appear insensitive to pain
May exhibit self-stimulating behavior: hand flapping, body rocking or attachment to objects
IN CRIMINAL JUSTICE SITUATIONS
May not understand rights or warnings
May become anxious in new situations
May not understand consequences of their actions
If verbal, may produce false confessions or misleading statements
As with Alzheimer patients, persons with autism may wander. Persons with autism may be attracted to water sources, roadways, or peer into and enter dwellings.
TIPS FOR INTERACTIONS WITH PERSONS WITH AUTISM:
Display calming body language; give person extra personal space
Use simple language
Speak slowly, repeat and rephrase questions
Use concrete terms and ideas; avoid slang
Allow extra time for response
Give praise and encouragement
Exercise caution during restraint
Person may have seizure disorders and low muscle tone
Avoid positional asphyxia. Keep airway clear. Turn person on side often.
Given time and space, person may de-escalate their behavior
Seek advice from others on the scene who know the person with autism
If in custody, alert jail authorities. Consider initial isolation facility. Person would be at risk in general prison population.
REMEMBER: Each individual with autism is unique and may act or react differently.
PLEASE contact a professional who is familiar with autism.
Copyright Debbaudt/Legacy Productions, 2005