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Advocates explain importance of first responder autism training

Published: Jul. 20, 2021 at 6:24 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, W.Va (WDTV) - Governor Jim Justice signed a bill into law in April requiring law enforcement and correctional officers to be trained on how best to interact with people with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Multiple of these training sessions have already taken place in north central West Virginia.

Executive Director of the WV Autism Training Center at Marshall University Dr. Marc Ellison explained, “Understanding some of the communication challenges, behavioral challenges and sensory challenges really helps really helps you recognize what’s going on.”

Carol Weinman, an autism legal expert and consultant and founder of Autism Advisors and Advocates, stresses the importance of this type of education as 1 in 54 people are diagnosed with ASD and two thirds are said to be level 1, so the signs that they are autistic may be more difficult to recognize.

“The reason these trainings are so important is because we can prevent and avoid a lot of these inappropriate and catastrophic encounters, if we understand more about autism, more about these individuals, the lens we see them through will be very different,” says Weinman.

A different view on dealing with those on the spectrum from a first responder standpoint is exactly what Samantha Matos, a mother of two nonverbal autistic boys, is hoping will only become more recognizable as time goes on.

“My biggest fear is that we would be in an emergency situation, and I wouldn’t be able to speak for them. I can advocate for them all day long, but in the event that I can’t, I want to make sure that everybody knows how to care for them so ultimately they are safe still,” said Samantha.

Matos also said that a group is trying to get the state legislature to work on creating a way for first responders to run a license plate and have it signal that there is someone in the car that has ASD.

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