April is Autism Awareness Month

By Lesly Hendershot, Psy.D., LP, BCBA-D, Director of Autism Behavioral Services and the KIDDS Program, The Children’s Center of Wayne County

As we learn more and more about it, we know that first responders and the community at large will at some point interact with someone with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). According to the CDC, about 1 in 88 children have been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. It has never been more critical that we all understand autism.

To kick off April’s Autism Awareness Month, The Children’s Center’s Autism Services program is working with the Autism Alliance of Michigan and the Michigan Department of Community Health to host a Michigan Autism Safety Training (MAST) at 6 p.m. on April 1, 2014. This free event has a two-part approach. First, it is designed to increase awareness of autism for those who may interact with individuals with ASD in the community. It is also meant to educate families of individuals with ASDs about designing and implementing a safety plan. According to Dr. Lesly Hendershot, Director of Autism Behavioral Services and tthe KIDDS Program at The Children’s Center, a key aspect to limiting risks is helping families implement a safety plan for individuals with autism. This might include a pocket plan card the individual carries or an ID bracelet that would inform a first responder or community member to the individual’s specific characteristics and needs.

The MAST program began in 2010 as a way to educate first responders, school transportation workers and the community about autism. Many times, children and adults with autism are misunderstood. For example, a lack of communication skills can make it very difficult for responders in an emergency situation. The lack of eye contact that is a common symptom for those with autism can be seen as defiance of authority. These are just some of the reasons a person with autism might be more at risk in a crisis. The MAST program is limiting this risk through training sessions like the one this month.

In fact, in the four years since the program began, there have been more than 33 training events, allowing 2,400 first responders and 145 school transportation workers to be trained on identifying, limiting risks and safely interacting with people diagnosed with an ASD throughout Michigan. MAST is endorsed by the Michigan Association of Chiefs of Police and is free to participants.

The Children’s Center is not only hosting this event, but many of our staff members will be trained. The event, held at The Children’s Center’s main campus at 79 W. Alexandrine in Detroit, is open to the public. It will be led by Sgt. Scott Schuelke of the Lansing Police Department. To register or to learn more about MAST, please contact Erica Fuller at 313.262.0979 or If you know someone who would benefit from this training, please share this post.

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