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Westchester First Responders Get Lesson on Autism

GREENBURGH, N.Y. – Westchester first responders were back in the classroom Tuesday to get a lesson on autism.

Dubbed "Train the Trainer," the five-hour course at the Greenburgh Public Library was designed to teach police, fire and EMS responders how to deal with autistic children in emergency situations.

“We are giving you strategies to help you perform your role” Maris H. Krasnow, a clinical associate professor of early childhood education at New York University, told the group. “We want to arm you with this information to allow you to act as efficiently as possible.”

About 75 responders sat around the conference room, listening as Krasnow explained the basics of the disorder. The group learned to be alert to potentially life-threatening behaviors like head banging, biting and scratching.

And they watched clips of autistic children's behavior and heard parents of children diagnosed with the disorder speak about the condition.

“The information we take away today will help us do an even a better job, both in training our officers and serving those in our community with autism,” Westchester County Public Safety Commissioner George Longworth said before the conference.

A 2009 study by the Westchester Autism Advisory Committee found there are 4,000 people living with autism spectrum disorders in the county. And as many as one in 110 children around the country will be diagnosed with the disorders, they reported.

But often responders are unsure of how to handle the children, who may be unwilling or unable to communicate and express themselves, Krasnow said.

Michael Volk , chief of Westchester County EMS, said his hope was the responders would take the information they learned and pass it along to their colleagues.

“This program will bring a little better understanding for our EMS community when they are responding to incidents and the day-to-day interactions with kids with autism,” he said.

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