Here is a video from NBC's Today Show about firefighters being trained on how to respond when faced with an emergency with an individual with ASD. Spearheaded by a dad... get your tissues!
Transcript (edited) is below:
Longtime firefighter Bill Canatta is committed to caring for his 21-year-old son Ted, who is living with autism. Bill teaches people across the country how to rescue other people with the condition, and his training helped one first responder save a boy’s life. TODAY’s Amy Robach reports.
With a program that aims to demystify autism for a very important group of people, "Today" national correspondent, Amy Robach, is here to explain.
"When it comes to an emergency, time is critical. The Autism Fire Rescue program has educated over 15,000 first responders in how to handle people with autism and as I found out, it is a mission that began very close to home for one fireman.
"The best way to meet an emergency is to prepare. Firefighters, police, and EMTs make the anticipation of the unexpected a regular part of their day. People with autism follow a routine and if that routine is broken, this is where the confusion begins in a lot of them and they don't know what to do. They don't understand what to do," explains firefighter Bill Canatta.
Ted is 21 years old and living with autism. He cannot speak and is extremely sensitive to sight, sound and touch. A long-time firefighter, Bill is Ted's devoted dad. Their relationship has led the father down an unexpected path to educator:
"He's my best teacher. He shows me everything and this is what I do, is just convey that message to other first responders."
In seminars across the country, he provides the keys to identifying a person with autism and the solutions for helping them to safety:
"They can just, one, be out of control or aggressive. Another situation, they can have a regression, completely shut down. People with autism have left a burning building, but because of the confusion, went back in because that's their safety, or some people will run away."
There are 1.5 million Americans with autism and that number is growing by the hour. So the chances of this firehouse will encounter a person with autism on their next call is growing by the day. Soon after a training session with Canatta, Bill Turner found a child with autism at the scene of a house fire:
"He was running around outside, totally out of control. So I go to grab the young boy going by and I got him, and he started pounding me on the chest. He was just beating me like he was going to beat me to a pulp."
"He was doing it because he was very excited to see him. Probably his gear, reflective tape is very attractive. Shiny things can be attractive to people with autism," said Canatta.
Bill Tuner continues: "I remember the class had taught me that if I put my arms around him and put him in a bear hug that he will simmer down."
Canatta: "Bill gave him a bear hug and gave him the deep squeeze and he settled down immediately. It was perfect, a perfect scenario to keep him safe until his parents could take care of him."
As these firemen prepare for the worst, their tool kit includes the best knowledge that Bill can give:
"This is just something we can learn that will help them through this type of situation. It's what we want to do. We want to do the right thing."
And Bill gave us some great advice: if you have any one in your home living with autism or any circumstance that requires special attention, you can go to your local fire department and tell them. It's important for first responders to have as much information as possible, when heading into an otherwise complicated situation... but what a group of heroes on so many levels.