Firefighters Implement New Program for Children with Autism

Our firefighters are taking an extra step to help children with autism.

After Lieutenant Tim Bouchelle of the Seven Lakes Fire Department witnessed a child having a meltdown caused by autism, he decided to do some research. He discovered that children with autism need a different approach in the case of an emergency. He also learned that flashing lights and loud noises – both associated with firefighters – can be triggers for children with autism.

In his research, Bouchelle found the Autism Response Program – a program that notifies emergency responders if a child they come in contact with has autism.

With this Autism Response Program, parents or guardians fill out a form with emergency medical information about the child. This information is placed into the glove box of their vehicle, where it can easily be found in the case of an emergency.

Stickers are also placed on the back windshield of the vehicle to immediately notify responders that a child with autism is present. With this information, firefighters can respond appropriately.

“The child is gifted, and we need to use a different approach,” Bouchelle said.

One out of every sixty-eight children has autism. More than forty percent of these children are non-verbal.

img_3319-2The purpose of this program is to help first responders understand the behavior of a child with autism and to respond accordingly, should a caretaker be incapacitated or otherwise occupied with the emergency.

“We want to help the parents by distracting the child,” he said.

Should an emergency take place, a child with autism could have a sensory overload caused by the lights and noises of first responder vehicles in addition to the natural frustration of the event.

During an emergency, firefighters will remain calm, identify the cause of any meltdown, and limit it as much as possible. The men will place themselves on the child’s level to distract as well as protect the child from himself/herself, if needed. They will also try to establish trust with the child and reassure him/her during the situation.

“We will protect the child from [himself/herself] and whatever circumstance the fire department is there for,” he said.

This program is still relatively new and is currently being pushed in Tennessee and Kentucky.

“[It] hasn’t branched out much because it’s new,” Bouchelle said.

This program is similar to the Yellow Dot Program in which drivers fill out information and place it in the glove compartment in case of a bad wreck. This way first responders can get necessary information and emergency contacts.

“Wrecks and fires happen everyday,” he said. “So do medical assistance calls.”

One way the community can help with this program is to get the word out. Because the Autism Response Program is still relatively new, it is important to notify the community so that firefighters can respond in the best way possible.

To participate in this program, stop by the Seven Lakes Fire Department Monday – Friday from 8:30am to 4:00pm or on weekends from 9:00am to 3:00pm. Ask for an Autism Response Program sticker and form.

(Proofread by Kori Godwin.)