District of North Vancouver firefighters trained in autism awareness

District of North Vancouver firefighters are now specially trained to help people with autism spectrum disorder, making the department the second in Canada to complete that training.

People with autism can face a greater risk in an emergency due to both an increased sensitivity to their surroundings and a tendency to flee. Almost half of children with autism have run away from a safe environment, according to the National Autism Association.

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“Being aware that a person with autism can be hyper or hypo-sensitive to stimuli is crucial knowledge, especially during an emergency when firefighters have to be ‘hands-on,’” stated Fire Chief Victor Penman in a press release.

District firefighters are trained both to identify people with autism and to understand the specific techniques required to help them.

“By understanding autism, firefighters can use strategies to help reduce the level of stress and anxiety during an incident (and) communicate more effectively with the person involved,” Penman stated.

The mortality rate among people with autism is approximately double that of the general population for ages 10 to 43, according to a 33-year study by Danish researchers published in 2008.

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