East Alabama group brings awareness to autism and first response with workshop

East Alabama group brings awareness to autism and first response with workshop

by Rosanna Smith

OPELIKA, AL (WTVM) - The Lee County Autism Networking Group is on a mission to bridge the gap between families who have a loved one with autism and first responders.

How to handle a person with autism during an emergency situation is what Dustin Chandler is teaching a group of first responders, families and community members in East Alabama.

As the father of an autistic child and a former police officer, Chandler knows both sides of this cause. People with developmental disabilities are seven times more likely to come in contact with police. He says this safety and risk management education is invaluable.

"It's not a matter of if they will come in contact with police it's when," Chandler said. "It's important to have the partnership with the autism community and law enforcement community to get together and have a two way street of sharing information and get to know each other. So if an officer, medic, or EMT shows up at a house of a person with autism, that we understand each other and it's not something so foreign that we don't know what to do."

Michelle Key has an 18 year old son who has special needs and is autistic.  So she knows firsthand how life changing this diagnosis can be for a family.

"His future is very fragile. He is going to need lifelong care, he will never live independently," Key said.

Key along with other families participated in an autism safety and risk management training in hopes of bridging the gap between them and emergency personnel.

"It's just good for first responders to know how to deal with because in a split second an accident, a tragic accident could happen," Lynn Magill, co-organizer of the group, said.

With wandering away from home the most common safety concerns for those with autism it's vital for first responders to be prepared for when they have to interact with them.

This is the first time this training has been held in Opelika.

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