First responders and autism: Spreading awareness and education through Crisis Intervention Training

AKRON, Ohio - In a video shown to a classroom, an older boy is screaming out of frustration. It may seem different to see a boy of his size and age screaming the way he was, but the child, the class instructor explained, is autistic and in this case has difficulty verbally voicing his frustration.

The video shown is part of a different type of training that goes on in Akron.  It's called Crisis Intervention Training and is taught by Akron Police Sergeant Mark Farrar.

CIT is a 40-hour training where participants learn how to recognize and effectively respond to someone experiencing a  mental health crisis, the focus of this course on autism.

Those with the Summit County Alcohol, Drug Addiction and Mental Health Services Board said in 2000, Summit County became the first location in Ohio to hold CIT training. 

"The point is to not only give an educational piece of what is autism, but it's also to bring the empathetic side to it so they're aware to what's going on in their communities," said Farrar, "...when we're dealing with people affected by autism we've got to put on a different camp on because they react much differently. "

Each case of autism is different and produces different reactions but, Farrar explained, sometimes the reactions might come across as combative to an officer or it could mean a reaction that doesn't communicate what's going on in an emergency. 

"I think, when all of us have a basic knowledge of a disorder that's increasing at the rate autism is increasing, we all could benefit from a little training," said Farrar. 

The rate of autism was once 1:88, but a slideshow presented to the class showed that, according to the CDC, 1 in 50 children now have autism.

"You could have individuals who have very good language but might be odd with their communication abilities, socially poor eye contact, they might be able again to speak very well but have an usual way of speaking, all the way to those who are nonverbal," said Laurie Cramer, Director of the Autism Society of Greater Akron.

Cramer told NewsChannel5 that while the training is helpful, it's not required even though first responders do often come in contact autistic children and adults when at work.

In the CIT classes, they go over incidents to show examples. Ranger Kelly Brown, a first responder attending the class, told NewsChannel5 he responded to one of those incidents but didn't quite understand what the issue was until now.

"We get no training what so ever in autism. There's so little information that's even available every day, it's just not something that comes up and I can't say enough the last session that we had and how it opened my eyes to autism," said Brown. 

They also go over what could be a sensory issue and how to help calm a person down.  "Even though the people with autism are distinctly different," reiterated Farrar, "they're going to exhibit similar behavior and if I can teach them by not only educating them on what this looks like but I bring in visuals that they can actually see how other children or adults behave, they're going to have a much greater understanding of when they encounter this on the street, that okay, I need to respond to that a little differently"

But as much as this one class is focused on first responders, they're not  the only ones who could or should receive CIT training, according to Cramer and Farrar.

Hospital staff, educators, and any groups that would like to take CIT training can do so. 

You can contact Akron Sergeant, Mark Farrar here:

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