Picture this, you’re a first responder on route to an emergency, when you come across an autistic person in sensory overload; would you know how to help them?
For many, the answer is no, and that’s why Wyong’s Next Step Community Services has launched a ‘Ask Me What I Need?’ training video to equip first responders with the tools and knowledge to assist autistic people during a crisis.
Berinda Karp created “Ask Me What I Need?’ and believes the resource has the potential to save lives.
“Generally, the autistic population that this resource is targeting, has strategies that they use to cope with stressors in their everyday lives, but an emergency is atypical, so their response is often atypical,” Karp explained.
“You can’t rehearse for something like a bushfire, so an autistic person can become totally overwhelmed by the gravity of the situation.
“Often, they respond with one of the four Fs (Fight, Flight, Freeze, Fawn) and when a first responder is called in, they might get one of these situations.
“First responders are used to people being anxious or scared, but they may not have any experience or knowledge in dealing with an autistic person, or these responses.
“So many don’t know how invaluable taking the extra time to ask an autistic person what they need can be in de-escalating a situation,” Karp said.
The video has received universal praise for its detailed but concise offering and has also been applauded for giving autistic people a voice within a space that they’re often overlooked.
The lack of autism awareness training in the emergency services sector was something that stood out to Karp whilst she was researching for the project.
She’s now hopeful the new resource will rectify that.
“Since its launch, I have already heard several stories of how this training has helped different types of first responders assist members of the autistic community, and what I’m also hearing from the ground is that first responders want more comprehensive training on this topic.
“I’m now working to develop a two hour workshop to expand upon the teachings within the video,” Karp said.
Richard Eifler is CEO at Next Step and said that he was delighted that ‘Ask Me What I Need?’ was already having a tangible impact.
“We are a not-for-profit community agency providing umbrella support services for autistic people through the NDIS, so this really feels like a natural progression of our offering,” Eifler said.
“I am very proud of all the work that Berinda has done to bring this project to life and Next Step will continue to support her to engage with more first responders to improve their confidence and skills, as well as outcomes for autistic people, right around NSW,” he said.
The project has also been recognised by newly formed government disaster management agency, Resilience NSW, with Next Step awarded a 2020 Get Ready Community Award for it.