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Autism Evansville is Training First Responders to Better Work with Individuals During Crisis

Autism Evansville TSA Training.jpg
Autism Evansville
Autism Evansville Executive Director Kelsey Shapker leads a training session for the TSA at Evansville Regional Airport recently.

Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office, Evansville Fire Department, Transportation Safety Administration received awareness training from local non-profit

Non-profit organization Autism Evansville is urging those in the public to be patient and empathetic with someone with autism spectrum disorder struggling emotionally in public.

Because they so often arrive to crisis situations, first responders are also receiving training to better handle public incidents. Agencies include the sheriff’s office, fire department and the Transportation Security Administration at the Evansville Regional Airport.

Autism Evansville Executive Director Kelsey Shapker said she held training sessions most recently for the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office and Evansville Fire Department.

“The goal of our community training is just to bring awareness and empower first responders … to work with and recognize individuals on the autism spectrum, who might be having a difficult time in a public situation,” she said.

Most recently they held a session for the Vanderburgh County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Dave Wedding says absent this training, they may miss important signs someone in crisis might be exhibiting.

“The training makes us aware of the people that we may encounter, and they give us certain tools to address the very people that we encounter,” he said.

One of those tools, said Shapker, is a kit with items to help someone become calm, who might be struggling emotionally at the moment. She said these can include fidget devices and ear defenders for deadening sound.

She said it can be difficult to tell if a child who is struggling with a public situation, has autism. “They may be melting to the ground or stemming or covering their ears,” she said.

“Stemming” is a term for someone on the autism spectrum self-soothing through fidgeting, making sounds or even going to be by themselves.

For first responders, she suggests keeping questions to a minimum and shutting off sirens and flashing lights. For the rest of us, she urges patience and empathy. Her own son is on the autism spectrum.

“Quite frankly, a family like mine, they should be able to recognize that we deserve to be out in public and experience the same thing that other children are.”

The annual night out of special needs is October 11, which Shapker said is like a sensory-friendly National Night Out with local first responders.

Autism Evansville VCSO Training.jpg
Autism Evansville
Kelsey Shapker stands with Vanderburgh County Sheriff's Office deputies following their recent training session.