Laval leads with new autism awareness kit for First Responders

Instructional program was developed in conjunction with Giant Steps School

Martin C. Barry

The City of Laval has decided to enhance a program of safety measures for autistic persons with the implementation of a new training module for the Laval’s public safety employees so that they will be fully prepared to deal with individuals in the midst of autism crises.

The training kit was created in conjunction with the Montreal-based Giant Steps School for autism. Prior to the announcement of this program, the City of Laval had already begun positioning itself as a leader among municipalities in matters concerning the autistic by first declaring an overall policy of inclusion towards those who suffer from autism.

An ongoing project

“In 2005, we decided it was important to train our personnel to improve the quality of life in emergency interventions for most of the population, but notably for persons affected by autism spectrum disorders,” Mayor Marc Demers said during an announcement on June 20 at Laval city hall.

“It was our first attempt and a first step in the right direction. Today I believe we can say that we are headed the right way and we are getting the idea of what needs to be done. The Laval Police and the firemen can be proud of the work that’s been done. What we are doing as a city is catching on and showing other cities the path that they too should follow.”

Special kit for responders

The program developed by the the Giant Steps School with the city includes explanatory presentations, videos, specially-adapted educational materials and a security kit. They are meant primarily for the police, firefighters and other emergency situation personnel so that they can be fully acquainted with the types of situations that can take place when they are dealing with persons suffering from autism.

According to a press release from the city, all the materials can be downloaded from the Internet from a link on the City of Laval’s web site. Thomas Henderson, executive-director of the Giant Steps School, explained the importance of key public safety staff being able to identify situations involving autism.

Mayor Marc Demers alongside Marie Lauzon and Thomas Henderson, who helped develop the autism awareness kit.
From the left, Marie Lauzon who helped develop the bilingual version of the First Responders’ Autism program, Mayor Marc Demers and Giant Steps School executive-director Thomas Henderson.

“It is very important that the interveners understand the type of behaviours that an autistic person has in an emergency situation in order to respond in the most efficient and properly adapted manner possible,” Henderson said.

Proud of the results

“I want to thank and congratulate the City of Laval for taking a leadership role with us at Giant Steps and collaborating on this important project,” he added. “It’s part of a larger project in partnership aimed at developing initiatives to create a more inclusive and accessible city for people with autism.

“We’re extremely proud of the results of this project,” Henderson continued. “The resources are being picked up by other emergency services across the country, and we are confident that as a direct result of improved resources and training people on the spectrum will be better prepared for emergencies and better served by the emergency services that are there to support them.”

Year and a half being developed

Henderson said that with financial support from the autism advocacy group Autism Speaks Canada, over the past year and a half Giant Steps developed the autism training program for emergency responders. An advisory committee that worked on the process was made up of police and firefighters, persons with autism, as well as parents and professionals.

In addition, the committee developed a safety resource kit that includes a wide variety of tools to help people with autism and their families to be more safe in the community, while knowing how to access emergency services more effectively. Educational resources were also developed for children and youths with autism to teach them about fire and community safety.