Communication:

  • 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.

Social:

  • 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 a 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 he or she 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.

Excerpt from Tips for First Responders published by the State of Georgia ADA.
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