Austin continues to be autism-friendly

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(ABC 6 NEWS) – On Wednesday, people in Austin will take part in free training called ‘Heart,’ which stands for helping enhance autism response training; this is a part of the Autism Friendly Austin initiative.

There will be two free training sessions on Wednesday. One in the morning for law enforcement and first responders. The other is in the evening for parents, caregivers, and those with autism.

Author Dennis Debbaudt will be at the Heart training to share how to recognize and prepare for high-risk contacts with police or first responder, the development of a ‘personal’ autism plan, and more.

"It is to help both law enforcement understand better some of the reactions they may encounter when they are dealing with people with autism and on the other hand how people with autism might be better prepared for an encounter with law enforcement," Hormel Historic Home’s Community Autism Resource Specialist, Mary Barinka said.

Barinka said Debbaudt is a professional investigator and has a son with autism. He will share examples of how encounters can be difficult to read for some people.

"Let’s say you have an adult on the autism spectrum who seeks sensory input and they might be you know like to hang around at parks," Barinka said. She added, "That could be a common situation where law enforcement might be called and when they show up the person with autism might become anxious if they get questioned."

Barinka said people will be able to learn more about how to handle situations like that.

You can sign up for the free training here.

Barinka also has a daughter with autism named Meg. She and her husband Tim had Meg after their first two daughters.

They noticed some of Meg’s development was slower than other kids when she was young.

"She didn’t speak until well after kids start to speak, and she had some sensory-seeking behaviors, so we had a lot of questions about her development," Barinka said.

When she was about two years old, Meg was diagnosed with autism. From there on Barinka became an advocate for her daughter.

"The family adjusted and modified and supported her, and a lot of what I learned to help her other families in the community would come to me to seek out help," Barinka said.

She began sharing her story and eventually started working with the Hormel Historic Home through its education outreach program.

Barinka has helped the city reach many milestones including camps for kids with autism, educational events, and the Autism Friendly Initiative, which focuses to improve the understanding of autism in Austin.

"I go out into the community and explain to organizations and present to businesses and organizations and explain what autism is and how it can affect employees and patrons of businesses and how they can be more understanding and accomodating," Barinka said.

She is also in the working stages of a new program at Riverland Community College called ‘The Spectrum Scholars.’ Riverland received a $19,000 grant from Minnesota State Colleges for students with autism who have the academic ability but need more academic support than other people.

"It’s different with autism because of the social aspect and there are some executive functioning issues that they struggle with and advocating for themselves can be difficult," Barinka said.

Barinka hopes by sharing her story, people can understand and accept people’s differences and ways of learning.

Her daughter Meg is now in college in Iowa going through a program for students with autism.

You can learn more about Mary’s work here.