First responders learn about situations with autism


WESTON, W.Va. – Autism affects 1 in 54 children in the United States. So, what happens when a first responder comes into contact with someone who has autism?

That’s what the West Virginia Autism Training Center from Marshall University is hoping to teach first responders in Lewis County.

“But, in almost all cases, individuals with autism have really significant challenges with social communication,” said Dr. Marc Eillison, Executive Director of the West Virginia Autism Training Center.

Attendee at the autism training for first responders in Lewis County

The idea to bring the training to Lewis County started with 26th Judicial Circuit Court Community Corrections and their treatment coordinator, Samantha Ribeiro-Matos, who has two sons who are autistic and non-verbal.

“I’m a mom of two young toddlers that have autism, and my boss allowed me to kind of explore, and we’ve done some fundraising and some different activities for autism. When we did that, we got a lot of feedback that they would really like to receive specialized training.”

Samantha Ribeiro-Matos, Treatment Coordinator for 26th Judicial Circuit Court Community Corrections

The training also came with backpacks for first responders to help children with autism during long situations. Several sensory items, such as weighted blankets, headphones and soft toys, are included inside these backpacks.

A sample backpack given to Lewis and Upshur County first responders that helps children with autism during long situations

“My biggest fear is that we would be in an emergency situation and I wouldn’t be able to speak for them,” said Ribeiro Matos.

Lewis and Upshur County both received three backpacks. Ellison and Ribeiro-Matos hope that first responders learn from this training.

“Autism can look like a lot of different things. Police officers, especially, interact with a lot of people who have lots of behavioral challenges just by the nature of their job. So, we want to give them just one more profile to consider if they happen upon a scene and recognize some unusual behavior,” said Dr. Ellison.

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