For the 57 million Americans with disabilities, medical emergencies and natural disasters present real challenges.
Compared to children without special needs, children with special needs are more likely to come into contact with first responders, more at risk for injury and more likely to be victims of violence.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a specific diagnosis for children with special needs that requires in-depth consideration because the social and behavioral challenges these children demonstrate put them at increased risk for injury and abuse.
There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in ways that are different from most other people. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.
A diagnosis of ASD now includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed separately: autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS), and Asperger syndrome. These conditions are now all called autism spectrum disorder.
The CDC reports that one in 68 children is now diagnosed with ASD; in 2000 that rate was one in 150. Taking these numbers into consideration, it becomes clear that first responders need to have training about special-needs individuals and the specific needs of individuals with ASD.
Reports of negative encounters between first responders and individuals with autism have been in the news recently. A better understanding of the influences that impact negative encounters with individuals with autism in emergency situations can provide responders with the perspective needed to handle these calls safely for everyone.