Autism Awareness Day Provides Friendly Interaction with First Responders

K9 Officer showing autistic children her working dog

Being involved in an emergency situation can be a stressful time for anyone, but for children with autism spectrum disorders or other social, communication or behavior challenges it can be overwhelming, sometimes rendering them non-communicative, frightened into flight, or spurred to violence. That’s why the City of Cooper City and Town of Davie teamed up for Community Autism Awareness Day.

“This event allows the first encounter with uniformed public safety personnel and their equipment to occur during a calm, controlled meeting, in a friendly and non-threatening atmosphere,” explains Event Coordinator Tina Hudson, who serves as the Executive Assistant to the Cooper City Elected Officials. “We hope to provide a level of familiarity to alleviate some of the stress from a future emergency situation.”

Fire fighter in full gear giving demonstration to families

Town of Davie Fire Department Battalion Chief Daniel Moran says the children are not the only ones to benefit from this program, police officers and firefighters do as well. “This event allows first responders to get more experience interacting with children and learning how to best communicate with them. Learning how to best respond to a person with autism or developmental disabilities allows us to provide better care and is critical for all first responders.”

During Community Autism Awareness Day, children were able to meet uniformed police officers, firefighters and paramedics as well as explore fire engines, police cars, rescue vehicles, police motorcycles, a tow truck and more. According to Hudson, “The children were very engaged and delighted by the sights and sounds of the uniformed personnel, public safety vehicles and apparatuses available to them.”

In addition, kids could interact with police dogs and service animals; there was also a petting zoo. Families enjoyed lunch provided by IAFF Local 4321.

Child and mom posing with firefighters

Cooper City and Davie have been co-presenting this program for the past 12 years. Hudson says it was a natural partnership because the two communities are so close together and their emergency service personnel often find themselves servicing reciprocal calls.

In addition to Community Autism Awareness Day, Battalion Chief Moran says his staff attends annual training with local autism awareness agencies to learn how small changes in a first responder’s approach can improve a child’s comfort level. “Reducing the number of personnel entering a home, lowering the volume on our radios, turning off the emergency lighting and using guides or electronic devices can make a big difference. Our personnel have even used videos or songs that the children know and love in order to communicate better and reduce stress.”

The 12th annual Community Autism Awareness Day took place at BSO Fire Station 28 in Cooper City.