UVU presents training for first responders assisting individuals with autism


First responders encounter people in highly stressful situations, and respond quickly to ensure the well-being of individuals. With the prevalence of autism now estimated at 1 in 54 Utah children, it is critical to provide those who serve the community with a practical understanding of best practices when responding to a crisis involving a person with autism. It can mean the difference between safety and harm.

More than 100 individuals representing Utah police and fire departments, as well as healthcare professionals and parents will gather for free training, provided by Utah Valley University, for first responders who interact with individuals on the autism spectrum. It will be held 9 a.m. to noon on Thursday, April 11, at Heritage Residential Treatment Center, 5600 N. Heritage School Drive in Provo.

The training can save lives, said Laurie Bowen, associate director of UVU’s Melisa Nellesen Center for Autism. “Autism is an invisible disability and sometimes behavior gets misinterpreted or misunderstood. It is important especially during this time of the year,” said Bowen. “We have intense running water in the canyons. Sometimes these kids are drawn to water and they drown. With days being longer and people being outside more there are more times when safety could come up as a concern. The more training, exposure and understanding professionals have, the better they can respond and hopefully save lives.”

Whether it be a medical emergency, motor vehicle crash, rescue, or other incidents, the way the personnel meet the needs can help or hinder the situation.

“We need to differ between individuals who are on the autism spectrum and someone who may be a drug abuser,” said Tom Sturtevant, associate dean of the College of Health and Public Service at UVU. “There is no visual indication. You have to look at behaviors. That will give a clue how to respond and react.”

The guest presenter at the workshop is Bill Cannata, a retired fire department officer who currently serves as the statewide coordinator for the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition in Massachusetts. The information will include ways to recognize those on the autism spectrum and tips on how to work with them.

Click here for more information and registration.

The more training, exposure and understanding professionals have, the better they can respond and hopefully save lives.