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Dutchess County to Host Autism Training for First Responders
Renowned presenters will teach how to interact with residents on autism spectrum

Published: 4/16/2018

For More Information Contact:

Colleen Pillus

Poughkeepsie… Dutchess County Executive Marcus J. Molinaro announced Dutchess County will again host an Autism Training for First Responders on Friday, April 20, 2018 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Department of Emergency Response, 392 Creek Road, Poughkeepsie. The training is open to  law enforcement officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and security guards, and it continues the County’s efforts to “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” – promoting a supportive environment for residents with special needs.

County Executive Molinaro said, “Throughout our community, men and women protect residents’ lives 24 hours a day, and many times the difference between life and death can be a matter of minutes. These brave first responders will learn the best ways to approach, communicate with and safely rescue an individual on the autism spectrum – skills that can save a life in an emergency. I encourage first responders to ‘ThinkDIFFERENTLY’ and attend this vital training session, as the safety of every resident of every ability is our shared responsibility.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is the fastest-growing neurobiological condition in the world. Hence, first responders are more likely than ever to encounter a person with ASD during an emergency response. Since autism can impair a person’s ability to communicate and relate to others, these calls can become high risk for both the responder and a person with ASD. 

First responders who attend this training will learn to:

  • identify the characteristics and behavior of a person with ASD; 
  • effectively communicate with a person with ASD; 
  • respond to an emergency involving a person with ASD; 
  • build relationships with the ASD community; and
  • utilize special tactics, rescue techniques and patient care options.

Pre-registration is required, as seating is limited; first responders can register online to reserve their spot. More information is available by calling (845) 486-2080. 

Two acclaimed experts will conduct the training.

Bill Cannata, Coordinator of the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Center, is a captain in the Westwood (Mass.) Fire Department with more 35 years of experience as a firefighter. The father of a son who lives on the autism spectrum, he has trained firefighters across the country to be better prepared to rescue people with autism in an emergency. Mr. Cannata’s efforts have gained national attention from NBC’s “Today” show and Autism Speaks, among others. In April 2017, Mr. Cannata trained dozens of first responders from throughout Dutchess County at a similar presentation, hosted by the County.

Jimmy Donohue, a lieutenant with the Pensacola (Fla.) Police Department, created the “Take Me Home” Program, a database which allows those who are unable to speak or properly identify themselves to police officers to register with a photo, physical description and contact information so first responders can provide special assistance that may be required when contact with a person with autism occurs. Dutchess County’s Life Button program helps families and first responders be able to track children who wander or go missing and ensure their safe return; information about the program is available online.

Toni-Marie Ciarfella, Ph.D., Dutchess County’s Deputy Commissioner for Special Needs, said, “Dozens of local first responders benefited from last year’s Autism Training for First Responders presentation, and we look forward to a similarly fruitful training session this year. Mr. Cannata has traveled extensively, sharing his life-saving techniques with countless first responders, and his words truly resonated his audience in Dutchess County last year. The addition of Mr. Donohue, another first responder dedicated to safeguarding the lives of residents with special needs, will make this presentation invaluable for so many who bravely serve our community.”

The father of a daughter living on the autism spectrum, County Executive Molinaro established the “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” initiative in 2015 as a call to action for Dutchess County – its residents, civic groups and organizations, businesses and government – to foster a welcoming and inclusive environment for individuals living with special needs. Since then, close to 100 towns, cities and villages have embraced the initiative, passing “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” resolutions and pledging to support those of all abilities.

More information about the initiative is available on Dutchess County’s “ThinkDIFFERENTLY” website.