BOSTON (CBS) – A training program for first responders in Massachusetts wants to make sure that police, fire, and EMS have positive interactions with people who have autism.
One in 68 children are now diagnosed with autism. The program, started by the ARC of South Norfolk, and the only state-funded training of its kind in the country, aims to teach first responders the signs of autism and how to respond.
The curriculum is taught by first responders with autistic relatives such as Bill Cannata, a retired Westwood firefighter and director of the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition. Cannata says he passes on lessons he has learned from his son, Ted.
“What I’ve learned from Ted and other people who have autism and I share that with my peers, with my co-workers,” Cannata said.
He is joined by Boston EMT Beth Rimas, and Boston pPolice officer Michelle Maffeo. Both are mothers of children with autism.
“I make it personal for our officers because of my situation with Matty,” Maffeo said.
The instructors say their lessons are more vital than ever given recent events. In Miami last summer, the unarmed caretaker of a man with autism was shot by police. The man with autism was holding a toy truck in his hands.
“A 3 to 4 hour training course would have changed the whole outcome of that. It never would have happened. That’s how I feel,” Cannata said.
Cannata says he hopes this kind of training will spread nationwide.