Workshop Trains First Responders How To Handle Autism

October 02, 2017 11:30 PM

(ABC 6 News) -- As the parent of a child with autism, Mary Barinka knows the challenges that can come with it.

 “There's been a lot of things in the news lately about people on the autism spectrum or with mental illness and disabilities having difficult run-ins with law enforcement and not-so-positive outcomes,” Barinka, who was recently hired by the Hormel Historic Home as a community autism advocate, said.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates 1 in 68 U.S. children are on the autism spectrum, meaning the likelihood that first responders will come across someone with the disorder is high. 

That's why The Arc of Mower County, the Autism Society of Minnesota and the Hormel Historic Home are teaching first responders more about autism and how to better respond during a crisis.

 “Even an officer approaching someone (with autism) because they might look a little suspicious, and then they miss some social cues and then suddenly a situation escalates that never needed to be a situation in the first place,” Lucas Scott with the Autism Society of Minnesota said. 

The program explains how people with autism may or may not respond to triggers during an emergency while also training law enforcement on what to look for and how to treat a situation where someone may not speak or process their commands.

 “If someone approaches someone with autism very quickly and says 'stop,' they might do the opposite, they might panic,” Barinka said.

 The two-hour workshop also outlined how everyone from dispatchers to paramedics and police officers could work together to avoid a tense situation.

 “The best thing you can do with anyone would be caring (for) that individual person's needs and then also (being) patient, slow things down, try to communicate,” Scott said.

 At the end of the day, safety is the main goal, Barinka said.

 “We’re hoping for our community with a little more education we can strive for improved outcomes for this population,” she said.

If you’d like to learn more about the workshops or bring one to your community, visit the Autism Society of Minnesota’s website.




Logan Reigstad

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