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County Emergency Personnel Undergoing Autism Training

Firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, law enforcement and emergency dispatch with the City of Temecula, Cal Fire and the Riverside County Sheriff's Department are receiving specialized training, according to a news release.

Emergency personnel in Riverside County are being trained to recognize and effectively interact with the autistic.

According to a news release, the City of Temecula, Cal Fire and the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department are engaging their local firefighters, EMTs, paramedics, law enforcement and emergency dispatch in specialized training to recognize and effectively communicate with people who have Autism, as well as reduce or eliminate dangerous situations and behaviors.

Autism is described as a “complex brain disorder that inhibits a person's ability to communicate and develop social relationships, and is often accompanied by behavioral challenges.”

Since the formation of the Southwest Riverside Autism Task Force in 2010—led by Temecula Mayor Mike Naggar—the City of Temecula has actively advocated on behalf of Temecula’s special needs and autistic community, city officials stated.

“One of several identified priorities within the City of Temecula/Southwest Riverside Autism Task Force Community Playbook, developed by Naggar and finalized in October 2012, has been to expand training among key constituencies that serve or engage individuals with special needs, including public safety personnel,” according to the news release.

“The prevalence of Autism has become an epidemic and a first responder's chance of encountering an autistic person is a matter of when, not if,” stated Naggar. “Training all emergency personnel is a necessity.”

City officials cited the following statistics: “Autism is the fastest growing developmental disability in the United States. In 2002, the Centers for Disease Control reported that Autism affected about 1 in 150 children. By 2008, the CDC estimate had increased to 1 in 88. Now, according to a recent CDC report, 1 in 50 school-aged children between the ages of 6 and 17 are being diagnosed.”

All Cal Fire personnel will receive the training in early 2014, according to the news release.

“Wandering-related dangers, including drowning and prolonged exposure, remain a concerning risk within the Autism population,” said Temecula fire Capt. Hans Bolowich. “Some children and adults may not be able to seek help if lost, or respond to their names when called. Being able to recognize such individuals and help them accordingly is critical.”

The public safety employees are undergoing training that was developed by either Ralph Carrasquillo Jr., of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department or Autism Risk & Safety Management.

Brian Herritt, a consultant for Autism Risk & Safety Management, explained that: “Autistic individuals are not easily recognized by emergency personnel as having a disability so their behaviors can be misinterpreted as defiant.

“Most are sensitive to lights and sounds, especially sirens and excessive input on their senses can lead to a meltdown. Often times, people with Autism have difficulty making eye contact and/or are non-verbal, and may not respond to simple commands or questions.

“The spectrum of Autism is very wide, however. This means that no two people with Autism will have exactly the same characteristics. Within the spectrum, there are Autism-related behaviors and characteristics that are less visible or apparent.”

Last week, according to the news release, Riverside County Sheriff Stan Sniff in collaboration with Naggar’s outreach, began implementing training among all graduating cadets from Riverside County Sheriff's Academy located at the Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center.

“I commend Sheriff Sniff for his genuine understanding of the importance of Autism training, and for proliferating training of law enforcement on a regional basis throughout the County as matter of public safety both for his officers and for those they serve,” Naggar said.

Temecula Chief of Police Jeff Kubel also began implementing the same training throughout the Temecula Police Department, with sessions offered in December and January, city officials said.

"Specialized training is important for law enforcement, particularly in precarious situations where communication impairments can make all involved more vulnerable,” Kubel said. “This type of specialized training will help our officers better serve the public when we encounter persons with special needs such as Autism."

Naggar is hopeful training can be considered throughout the state.

“This epidemic is not confined to our region—it is a public health crisis and I am hopeful other jurisdictions might see what we are doing in Temecula and Riverside County and use it as a model in their communities.”

Editor's Note: This story was updated at 8:11 a.m. Dec. 10 to clarify that the training is countywide, not limited to Temecula, according to Mike Naggar. 

jill December 10, 2013 at 09:25 AM
I think this is great training for emergency personnel to have. However, I don't understand why the city and county are training for just one disability. We don't have a PET (Psychiatric Emergency Team), and there are other mental health issues besides autism. Recognizing a psychotic break (or other symptoms) can mean life or death, and in light of the Kelly Thomas tragedy, I would think Temecula and surrounding cities would want to have trained personnel. Naggar seems to have a laser focus on this one disability.
Artemis Gordon December 10, 2013 at 09:47 AM
Hopefully less so called defiant people will be shot, abused or manhandled due to this training. Cops really have issues with compliance and defiance. I hope this saves lives.
ChrisG December 10, 2013 at 10:39 AM
What changed over the last decade with CDC guidelines to increase the number of people diagnosed with autism to go from 1:150 to 1:50? Seems pretty outrageous to me that many kids are autistic.
Aaron Powers December 10, 2013 at 11:14 AM
@ChrisG A nanny state, plus helicopter parents.
SA December 10, 2013 at 01:03 PM
This is complete BS … use commonsense ooohhhh no we are no longer allowed to think for ourselves ….
Chester December 10, 2013 at 01:27 PM
This is a priority because Naggar's son is autistic.
Chester December 10, 2013 at 05:08 PM
Naggar has discussed his sons disability in public and in the newspapers. I was responding to Jill's comment about training for just one disability, not that I have to explain anything to you. PS it's HIPAA Einstein
TVOR December 10, 2013 at 05:09 PM
My friend who is a Riverside sheriff deputy says all deputies are given mandatory training on interacting with people with mental illness.
jill December 10, 2013 at 06:09 PM
I don't doubt that there is some training in academies regarding mental health issues. However, other cities have teams that include mental health professionals to assist in calls where mental illness is reported or suspected. Temecula is not a small town anymore, and it's a matter of public safety.
The Peacekeeper December 10, 2013 at 06:35 PM
Yes, special needs and ASD training is now mandated by the Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST). However in many circumstances PET's or PAT's are still required to respond when on scene LE determines further evaluation or treatment may be required. Also, Naggar has mentioned previously and publicly that his son is on the Autism Spectrum. Therefore no HIPPA violation, Steve. Furthermore, when US Senator Christopher Dodd pushed legislation through to become law about 4 years ago, the system became wrought with waste, fraud and abuse. There are many families out there which require assistance and my heart goes out to them. However when the federal $$ started dropping to the big medical conglomerates and pharmaceuticals, it was plain to see that the reckless diagnosis for kids with autism has become abusive, by so many. Who should get more training for ASD's are medical school students. A friend of mine is a senior professor at the LLUMC school of medicine. He reports that the current curriculum during medical school for the study of ASD's is merely an 8 hour lecture. That's it!!! So besides LE being trained on persons with ASD's or various other mental illnesses, perhaps medical school curriculum should be reevaluated to add more study to the aforementioned.
Stephen Longo December 10, 2013 at 06:57 PM
Mental illness has been ignored for way to long. this training is a great idea and avoid alot of bad situations and prevent then from getting worse. Anyone that things this is a bad idea or want to pin it on Naggar solely because of his son is an ass and an idiot. Be grateful you dont have a family with this. its not something that goes away with medication. I am greatful that my kids and grand kids do not have this disease but my heart goes out to those less fortunate.
Michael December 11, 2013 at 10:26 PM
Finally, its about time less of us are getting killed and are finally going to be talked to calmly and not shot right away by the cops. So glad they are finally focusing on us.
ChrisG December 11, 2013 at 11:42 PM
Michael, do your parents know you're using the computer again?
TVOR December 12, 2013 at 10:54 PM
@stephen longo, I agree with you but want to point out autism is not s disease. It is a condition most often caused by genetics but can also result from a combination of environmental factors. It is also not always noticable unless you are well trsined to recognize it.
Michael December 18, 2013 at 05:52 PM
ChrisG, what was the point of that rude, insensitive, and unnecessary comment. I'm very capable of making my own comments. The reason you decided to reply back that way, I do not know. It was really unnecessary of you treat me as if I'm a 5 year old when I'm a sophomore that knows a lot. So please, leave your unnecessary rude idiotic comments to yourself.

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