Excerpt from: “Tips for First Responders when assisting:People with Autism”
Condensed by: ASA-ETC in October 2009
- Speak calmly. Use direct, concrete phrases with no more than one or two steps, or write brief instructions on a pad if the person can read.
- Allow extra time for the person to respond.
- The person may repeat what you said, repeat the same phrase, talk about topics unrelated to the situation, or have an unusual or monotone voice. This is their attempt to communicate, and is not meant to irritate you or to be disrespectful.
- Avoid using phrases that have more than one meaning such as “spread eagle”, “knock it off”, or “cut it out”.
- Visually check to see if there is a wrist or arm tattoo or bracelet that identifies the person as having an autism spectrum disorder. (Note by ASA-ETC: If in a vehicle, check for stickers or signs that identify a passenger as having autism.)
- Some people with autism do not show indications of pain – check for injuries.
- Approach the person in a calm, non-threatening manner.
- The person may not understand typical social rules. He or she may be dressed inappropriately, enter your personal space, prefer to be far away from you, or may not make eye contact.
- The person may have unusual facial expressions or laugh or giggle inappropriately, or may have difficulty understanding the seriousness of the situation. Do not interpret these behaviors as deceit or disrespect.
- Because of the difference in their social understanding, persons with autism may display behaviors that are misinterpreted as evidence of drug abuse or psychosis, defiance or belligerence. Do not assume!
Sensory and Behavior
- If possible, turn off sirens, lights, and remove canine partners. Attempt to find a quiet location for the person, especially if you need to talk with them.
- Avoid touching the person, and if necessary, gesture or slowly guide the person.
- If the person is showing obsessive or repetitive behaviors, or is fixated on a topic or object, avoid stopping these behaviors or removing the object unless there is risk to self or others.
- Make sure that the person is away from potential hazards (busy streets, etc.) because they may not have a fear of danger. (Note by ASA-ETC: Ensure that someone stays with them as they may not follow instructions to stay in a specific place, even for their own safety.)
- Be alert to the possibility of outbursts or impulsive, unexplained behavior. If the person is not harming anyone, wait until these behaviors subside.
The complete “Tips Guide for First Responders when assisting:” was published by: State of Georgia
Working Group on Emergency Planning for Individuals with Disabilities and the Elderly, American Red Cross,
Disability Resource Group, Emory Center for Public Health Preparedness, Georgia Advocacy Office, Georgia
Emergency Management Agency, Georgia Department of Human Resources Disability Resource Group, Georgia
State Financing and Investment Commission, State ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act)
Coordinator’s Office: Georgia Statewide Independent Living Council, and Governor’s Council on Developmental
Funding provided by: Georgia State Financing and Investment Commission, State ADA Coordinator’s Office
The Georgia Emergency Management Agency and the State of Georgia Working Group on Emergency
Planning for Individuals with Disabilities and the Elderly would like to thank the original creators and
publishers of this tips guide: Center for Development and Disability, University of New Mexico, New Mexico
Department of Health, Office of Health, Emergency Management, American Association on Health & Disability, New
Mexico Governor’s Commission on Disability, Research and Training Center on Independent Living
For more information and resources on this topic contact:
State of Georgia Working Group on Emergency Planning for Individuals with Disabilities and the Elderly
Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and
Addictive Diseases, Phone: (404) 657-2258, Fax: (404) 657-1137
Web site: http://mhddad.dhr.georgia.gov
Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health, Office of EMS/Trauma, and
Emergency Preparedness, Phone: (404) 463-5440, Health Resource Services Administration (HRSA):
(404) 463-5426, Fax: (404) 463-5395, Web site: http://health.state.ga.us/
Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health, Office of Nursing,
Phone: (404) 657-2700, Fax: (404) 657-2715, Web site:
Georgia Emergency Management Agency, Phone: (404) 635-7000 or 1(800)TRY-GEMA (in Georgia
only), TTY: (404) 635-7258, Fax: (404) 635-7005, Web site: www.gema.state.ga.us
Georgia Statewide Independent Living Council, Phone: (770) 270-6860, TTY: GA Relay 711, Fax: (770)
270-5957, Web site: www.silcga.org
Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, Phone: (404) 657-2126, TTY: (404) 657-2133, Fax:
(404) 657-2132, Web site: www.gcdd.org
State ADA Coordinator’s Office, Phone: (404) 657-7313, TTY: (404) 657-9993, Fax: (404) 463-5650, Web
For more information or to request a copy of the complete “Tips for Emergency Responders when
assisting: …” Guide contact:
Georgia Emergency Management Agency Web site: http://www.gema.state.ga.us TTY: (404) 635-7258
FAX: (404) 635-7005
Address: Georgia Emergency Management Agency
P.O. Box 18055
Atlanta, Georgia 30316
Main phone line: (404) 635-7000 or 1-800-TRY-GEMA(in Georgia only)