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« Autism alert cards in times of trouble | Main | Familes struggle to help adult children and sibblings with autism spectrum disorders »


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 ddpi@flash.net

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


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.


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




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  • Welcome to the Toronto Star's autism blog, a daily amalgam of breaking news stories, features, trends and ideas flowing from our Autism Project. The blog is written by Star reporters: Kate Allen, Andrea Gordon, Laurie Monsebraaten, Kris Rushowy, Leslie Scrivener, and Tanya Talaga.

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