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Training course addresses Autism Awareness

Published 3:48pm Friday, April 25, 2014

Hicks asked those in attendance to imagine a scene of 1,000 televisions playing at the same time, with the same volume, with each television having a different program on.

“For an autistic individual, that is everyday life when things are calm,” Hicks said. “Instead of hearing one television, they hear every single one of them at once and cannot just focus on one television at any given time.”

Hicks addressed different ways for emergency responders to recognize someone with autism.

“Autism is an invisible disability that emergency responders may misinterpret as mental retardation, psychosis, defiance, drug/alcohol use or criminal activity,” Hicks said. “Individuals with autism are as normal looking as you and me, so emergency responders may not be able to tell if the individual is autistic right away.”

Several of the signs to be able to identify someone with autism included: hand flapping or other odd hand gestures; repeating words said to them; lining up objects; pacing back and forth; avoiding eye contact; limited, delayed or no language; high pain threshold; opening and closing doors repeatedly.

Other symptoms included individuals seeming to have a “zoned out” look, not asking for help when needed, having “selective” hearing, limited or inappropriate social interactions, robotic or repetitive speech, awkward movements or mannerisms and the

inability to understand intent or another person’s actions, words or behaviors.

During the seminar, Hicks brought in a 7-year-old female with autism to show those in the class some of the characteristics of autism.

A law enforcement individual attending the class addressed issues with often being called to a school for a situation of a child “out of control” but not being adequately prepared that the child has autism.

Hicks said it is important for school employees as well as emergency dispatchers to be adequately informed of the condition of the child before law enforcement arrives on the scene.

“If a police officer shows up to a call of a child out of control, there are a number of things that could mean,” Hicks said. “It would be tremendously helpful for the officer to know that the situation is dealing with someone who has autism.”

Hicks said he hopes the course will help bring awareness to autism and hopefully encourage others in the community to research more about the topic.

Hicks said a reason for the increase in numbers of individuals diagnosed with autism is due to a greater awareness and more effective methods for testing and diagnosis.

“It is important for people to know how to deal with certain things and autism is becoming more and more common,” Hicks said. “I think the class is very effective in addressing different things about how emergency responders can deal with certain situations.”

Lt. Elijah Bearden with the Clanton Police Department participated in the training course and said on Friday he found the course to be very effective.

“I thought getting to see the little girl who has autism was really helpful,” Bearden said. “We got to see how someone might act and how they respond, and I enjoyed that.”

Although Bearden said he couldn’t recall any specific calls to CPD regarding children with autism, he was thankful for the course that will prepare him for how to respond if a call comes in the future.

“We get various calls where a child is out of control and a parent can’t get them out of a car or something,” Bearden said. “You just never know when you might need the training about a child with autism, and I learned different ways to be able to determine if a child might have autism.”

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