CHARLOTTE -- Autism can affect people of all ages, and in recent years, the rate of autism spectrum disorders has increased to one in every 38 births, which is why the state's encouraging all first responders and law enforcement officers to receive training on working with people with autism.
“It was something that we had thought about, as a possibility. But at the same time, when you hear it, it's very shocking,” said Chris Stowe, a Gastonia fire public information officer who recently found out his son Jack has autism.
“If you ask him to look me in the eye, you'd be standing there all day because he doesn't do it. But what that's taught me is patience,” said Stowe.
Stowe is not alone. Captain Dan Johnson at the Mecklenburg County Sheriff's Office also has a son who is on the autism spectrum.
“It's all about people, and just awareness of how we can interact with different people across any type of spectrum,” said Johnson.
Having that patience and knowing how to interact, especially in accidents, medical emergencies or fires, Stowe and Johnson hope all first responders and law enforcement officers will learn through the State Fire Marshal's training program.
“Neurological challenges that can potentially inhibit someone from being able to communicate or someone may react potentially adversely to lights, sounds, noises... That really adds to it,” said Johnson.
“From a fire department's perspective, if we go to a house fire, the number 1 thing that someone with autism does is hide. This training is going to help to go and approach that autistic person in a very calm manner,” said Stowe.
They hope family members will be prepared as well.
The State Fire Marshal's office has a form you can fill out and give to your local police and fire departments. You can write down specific details that first responders need to know. For example, if the person is sensitive to the flashing lights, or if the person doesn't like being touched.
“We want to the best for our kids, every one of us, and everyone can understand that fundamental want and need for our children to be successful,” said Johnson.
For more information on the autism training course, click here.
For more information on the special needs form, click here.