Dennis Debbaudt's Autism Risk & Safety Newsletter July 2004

Journal of Emergency Medical Services Reports on Autism

The Journal of Emergency Medical Services (JEMS) June 2004 issue features a report by Loralee Olejnik "Understanding Autism: How to appropriately & safely approach, assess & manage autistic patients"
My friend and colleague, San Diego Fire Department Captain Ralph Carrasquillo, is an autism dad who oversees the administration staff for the EMS Division. Ralph's been actively training first response and law enforcement professionals in the San Diego area for several years. His work is featured prominently in this report.
Loralee Olejnik is a communications instructor at San Diego State University and a journalist working with San Diego Medical Services Enterprise, the City of San Diego's 9-1-1 paramedic program.
I was honored to be interviewed for and contribute material to this report.
Here's an online link to the report that includes photos & sidebars:

Understanding Autism: How to appropriately & safely approach, assess & manage autistic patients
By Loralee Olejnik JEMS June, 2004

Your first response engine responds to an apartment complex to care for a six-year-old child with a complaint of difficulty breathing. The little boy is very upset and ³acting out.² He doesn't seem to respond in an age-appropriate manner and is becoming more agitated, although remaining alert and oriented. Specific instruction and eye contact have no effect.

You're beginning to think this child is a ³spoiled brat.² The ambulance arrives, and the paramedic crew also attempts to gain control. The child seems fascinated by the lights and activity. His eyes dart from object to object as he asks numerous questions. When you physically try to place the child onto the gurney to assess him on a more comfortable surface, he becomes hysterical and uncontrollable.

At this point the child's mother informs you that her son is autistic. Wow! If only you had known that from the beginning. Would it have made a difference? Do you really know the implications of this to you, the caregiver?

Captain Ralph Carrasquillo Jr., a paramedic and instructor for the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, does. When his five-year-old son was diagnosed with autism, educating other first responders and medical personnel on autistic patients became a cause close to his heart.

³When I first heard the term autistic, the only thing I thought of was Rainman,² says Carrasquillo. ³I didn't really know much. I've educated myself about my son, but I wanted to share that information with everybody.²

Carrasquillo has taught more than a thousand fire and EMS personnel in San Diego County to improve their interactions with autistic patients, especially children. He modeled his lesson plans after those developed by Dennis Debbaudt, a Florida private investigator who also has an autistic autistic son and who took on the cause of educating law enforcement officers in the early 1990s.

Through their in-service training courses, and‹coming soon‹lessons for new recruits at police academies, San Diego County emergency responders are benefiting from education on the disorder. Firefighters, EMTs and paramedics increasingly must take a proactive approach in learning how to recognize and work with autistic patients, to better provide for their welfare and safety and to better protect themselves and their departments from liability.

³It makes me feel great that I've helped [an autistic] person's life and that family's interaction with us,² says Carrasquillo. ³What's close to my heart also is the fact that we're keeping my firefighters safe.²

Carrasquillo's work is especially effective with emergency response personnel because he's one of their own. ³There's nothing like hearing it from your colleagues,² says Debbaudt, who writes books and conducts autism workshops for emergency responders around the world. ³Ralph brings that credibility to the table. His passion‹it's something you can't buy and can't hide.²

According to the Autism Society of America (ASA), autism is a neurological disorder that typically appears during the first three years of life. It specifically affects brain function in the areas responsible for the development of communication and social interaction skills.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) statistics place the prevalence of the disorder at two to six per 1,000 people, and estimates are that one in 150-250 children younger than 10 years old in California alone have autism. It is four times more prevalent in boys than in girls, is not affected by race or socioeconomic level and is not caused by misguided parenting activities.

The exact cause of autism is unknown, although there may be links to genetics and brain injury. It has also been linked (controversially) to thimerosal, a mercury-laced preservative present in many childhood vaccines. Some autistic people have abnormally high levels of mercury in their bodies, and those levels have been linked to the cumulative effect of immunizations. Although thimerosal has been removed from the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine, it is still present in others, and there's an active campaign to have mercury-based preservatives removed from all vaccines. At this time, there's no known cure for autism.

Autism is one of several disorders that fall under the umbrella category of Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD), along with Asperger's Disorder, Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD), Rett's Disorder and PDD-Not Otherwise Specified (PDDNOS) (ASA, 2003).

(Note: Several decades ago, autism and learning disabilities tended to be lumped beneath one diagnostic umbrella of ³minimal brain dysfunctions,² and then physicians would add ³autistic tendencies² or ³high-functioning autism² to further differentiate from severe autism. The DSM was re-configured, and many disorders were ³renamed²[as with ADD or ADHD] or named after physicians who did early research into that specific disorder, as with Asperger's syndrome‹named after Hans Asperger who did the first serious research into what was known as high-functioning autism. Thus, today, many who would have been diagnosed 30 years ago as high-functioning autistic are diagnosed as having Asperger's.)

Although individuals with autism may otherwise appear perfectly normal, the disorder makes it difficult for them to function and communicate in socially appropriate ways. The inability to be understood may cause frustration and confusion for both patients and those interacting with them, and often makes the autistic person appear to be acting abnormally or in a bizarre manner. In addition, their lack of eye contact and repetitive, nervous movements, called stimming, often cause emergency responders to mistakenly assume autistic patients are on drugs.

Those diagnosed with autism can exhibit such a tremendous variation of symptoms that they are said to fall on a spectrum. No two individuals display the exact same behaviors or symptoms, which can range from individuals who are severely affected by uncontrollable body movement and an inability to communicate to highly functioning, highly educated persons who suffer only mild problems in communicating and with relationships.

Most autistic patients have food allergies and intolerances, and some thrive on a gluten-free and casein-free diet (no wheat, no dairy). Diet won't ³cure² autism, but for some autistics, it makes dealing with the condition easier.

Although only 0.001% of the general population experience seizures, they are a common symptom in autistic patients, occurring in 25% of autistics. Many autistics have heightened visual acuity (e.g., some can discern the 60-cycle frequency of fluorescent lighting and/or the cycling of a computer or TV screen). Some are sensitive to flashing lights (e.g., strobe lights or pen lights directed at the eyes), which can trigger seizures. This can present unique problems for emergency responders attempting to assess or treat autistic patients.

Due to increased education and awareness of the disorder, the rate of reported autism is growing at more than 10% per year, and the ASA projects that 4 million Americans will be diagnosed as autistic during the next decade. This correspondingly increases the chances that emergency medical personnel will encounter autistic patients in the field. In fact, statistics show that autistic children and adults are seven times more likely to have contact with law enforcement or EMS than a member of the general public.

Efforts to mainstream autistics as an alternative to institutionalization have also resulted in a greater number who can function independently in society. Therefore, when first responders arrive on scene, a caretaker may not be available to inform them of the individual's condition, unlike our scenario, which makes looking for telltale signs of autism even more important.

A first responder may come into contact with an autistic individual on a medical emergency call or even calls for missing children or adults because autistic persons, similar to Alzheimer's patients, will sometimes run away from caretakers.

This activity, called elopement or running, is one of the greatest threats to autistic patients, and emergency responders must take care not to quickly attribute the event to deliberate abuse or negligence on the part of the caretaker.

Autistic children who run away are often attracted to bodies of water. This is a dangerous combination because many show no notion of fear and don't know how to act in emergency situations. Example: In December, a 16-year-old autistic girl in Mesquite, Texas, died in a fire after her mother unsuccessfully struggled to remove the girl from their burning home. In an interview with The Dallas Morning News regarding the tragedy, Debbaudt commented, ³Autistic people can take longer to process information and when anxiety is enhanced, like in a fire, they may not be able to understand the basic command.²

Debbaudt added, ³They may not understand the inherent danger and refuse to leave until they get a stuffed animal they are attached to. Or a person may want to re-enter a building to retrieve a pet, because they don't understand the dangers.²

(Note: Autistics tend to learn by experience and education, but don't possess the innate ability to detect danger. They tend to miss non-verbal cues from the ³crowd mentality,² especially when things are going bad. For example, autistics aren't likely to see a punch coming until they've already hit the ground. Even if they are aware that a situation is deteriorating, they may not know what to do about it. Role-playing, scenarios and detailed preparation are essential for autistics to function well in any environment.)

Working with autistic patients

Because so many potential risks are involved to both the patient and the first responder, extra caution is needed when dealing with autistic individuals. Tips for recognizing a person with autism (as adapted from course curriculum):
  • May have limited range of speech or vocabulary (50% are non-verbal);
  • May appear argumentative, stubborn or belligerent;
  • May exhibit echolalic (repeats what you say) or rambling speech or speak in a monotone or singsong voice. They might speak in high- or low-pitched tones or in whispers. Also, autistics quickly pick up regional accents, and their speech patterns can alter (often unconsciously) in the presence of a different accent;
  • May exhibit unusual or repetitive physical actions or self-stimulating behavior, including hand flapping, finger flicking, spinning objects or self-rocking back and forth;
  • May give an inappropriate response or no response (may appear deaf or like they don't care what you're saying);
  • May not be able to give important information or answer simple questions;
  • Are usually very honest; don't lie and are very blunt;
  • May be sensitive to touch, sound, bright lights, odors or animals;
  • May have difficulty judging personal space‹may stand too close or too far away; and
  • May have information pertaining to their condition on an ID card/bracelet or clothing tags.
How you store your equipment can make a huge difference to autistics, who have great difficulty dealing with change and/or ³out of order² materials. Hastily wadded ECG cables (inset) are going to agitate your patient. If they're neatly wrapped, you're less likely to have a problem. PHOTOS COURTNEY McCAIN   

Suggestions on how to approach an autistic patient:
  • Approach in a quiet, non-threatening manner, reducing noise and stimuli as much as possible;
  • Don't crowd; leave as much room as possible;
  • Incorporate the caregiver (if one is present) into the call as much as possible, and solicit from them suggestions on how best to deal with the individual;
  • Talk in direct, short phrases using simple language: Avoid double meanings, slang or ³joking around.² Autistics tend to take things literally. On the flip side, be prepared for a ³little professor² speech pattern, particularly in young patients. Many high-functioning autistics read early and develop an extensive vocabulary at a young age. They're likely to launch into a long-winded, advanced conversation about a particular interest. Looking for common ground in interests or educating them about EMS (they're likely to ask many questions) can help develop a rapport;
  • Allow for delayed responses to questions or commands;
  • Talk calmly and repeat questions and information if necessary; talking louder does not improve understanding;
  • Avoid touching (especially the shoulders and face) unless necessary for the physical exam. The patient may be sensitive to touch and cry out. Some might jerk away, as if they were burned or touched with something very hot;
  • Evaluate the patient for injury with a thorough secondary exam; they may have a high tolerance for pain;
  • Use all available information: the patient's name, age, appearance, bystander statements, types of behaviors exhibited, etc. Find out exactly what's going on;
  • Consider using a clipboard, tablet or a computer with responses displayed: yes/no, the alphabet, simple phrases, pictures. Before using a computer, however, to help assess an autistic patient, ask if they've ever experienced seizures. If they have, use caution with computer screens and pen lights; and
  • If a patient needs to be restrained, approach them from the side. Autistic people tend to throw their head back when being restrained.

Non-skid surfaces are especially difficult for autistics because of the patterns and rough edges. Many formerly cooperative, ambulatory autistics might see this rear ambulance bumper and refuse to step onto it. If that happens, explain that the metal is shaped like that so no one will slip and fall. PHOTOS COURTNEY McCAIN   

Carrasquillo said he gets the biggest satisfaction when coworkers tell him that they have utilized these tips when they encounter an autistic patient. ³They tell me they used the techniques and haven't had to wrestle a patient to the ground. When I hear that, I feel like I have made a difference.²

Through education and application of this information in the field, all first responders can improve their interactions with autistic patients, thus elevating the overall quality of service and making a difference in their communities as a whole.

Recommended Reading:
    1.   Anderson KS: ³Autistic girl dies in blaze. Officials: She struggled with Mesquite mother who tried to save her.²The Dallas Morning News. Dec. 15, 2003
    2.   Autism Society of America home page: . Accessed Feb. 26, 2004.
    3.   Autistic Society home page: Accessed Feb. 26, 2004.
    4.   Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2001.
    5.   Curry K, Posluszny M., Kraska S: Training Criminal Justice Personnel to Recognize Offenders with Disabilities. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services News in Print, Washington, D.C.: 1993.
    6.   Debbaudt D: ³Managing autism safety.²Advocate. 36(2):27-30, 2003.
    7.   Debbaudt D: ³Avoiding unfortunate situations." Accessed Feb. 28, 2004.
    8.     Loralee Olejnik is a communication instructor at San Diego State University and a freelance journalist working with San Diego Medical Services Enterprise, the City of San Diego's 9-1-1 paramedic program.
    9. Ralph Carrasquillo Jr. is a captain for San Diego Fire-Rescue and oversees the administrative staff for the EMS Division. If you have any questions concerning working with autistic patients, contact him at

Autism Spectrum Quarterly Premier Issue
August 2004!!!!

Autism Spectrum Quarterly
(Formerly the Jenison Autism Journal / The Morning News, edited by Carol Gray)
Diane Twachtman-Cullen, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief; Liane Holliday Willey, Ed.D., Senior Editor
Autism Spectrum Quarterly brings you the quality that you expect from a professional journal, with the readability and practicality of a high-quality magazine - and much more.

- Internationally renowned advisory board
- Articles by, for, and about individuals with ASD
- Cutting edge information from the world of scientific research
- A focus on families and family issues
- Tips and practical strategies for dealing with a variety of situations
- Reviews of books and resource materials
- A spotlight on best practices:  Each issue will feature an educator, clinician, or  paraprofessional whose work on behalf of those with ASD has been exemplary.

ASQ features a 21-member international advisory board including many of the most well-respected individuals in the ASD community such as:  Tony Attwood, Simon Baron-Cohen, Catherine Lord, Nancy Minshew, and Lorna Wing,

The premier issue of Autism Spectrum Quarterly, due out in August, features outstanding contributions from the following individuals:

Alyson Beytien - You too?!  Common Stories from an Uncommon Parent

Walter Coles & Dennis Debbaudt - The Role of the Family-School Liaison Counselor

Cathy Pratt, Ph.D. - School Cultures that Support Students Across the Autism Spectrum

Judith Reichenberg-Ullman, ND, LCSW& Robert Ullman, ND - A Drug Free Approach to ASD: Exceptional Medicine for Exceptional Kids

Robert Rosenbloom, M.D. - Baseball, Hot Dogs, and Love

Liane Holliday Willey, Ed.D. - Protecting Aspies from Danger

The fall issue will be published in October.  It will feature articles covering issues related to both children and adults with ASD.  Fall authors include:  Dr. Julie Donnelly, Linda Hodgdon, Dr. David Holmes, Susan Moreno, and Stephen Shore.
For more information and to register online log onto> .  Email your questions to



Working together is underrated. I've presented with Walter Coles in the past and am grateful to Diane Twachtman-Cullen and Liane Holliday Willey for giving us the chance to collaborate on the ASQ article. Walter and I'll co-present again in New Brunswick this coming November.

I've also had the fantastic experience of presenting with Stephen Shore in Massachusetts and having him sit in with me at the ASA conference last week. And the experience of co-presenting with U.S. Deputy Marshal Nick Proffitt was a thrill. Nick and I have worked on this issue for almost ten years together, co-developed materials and stayed in regular contact but had never met in person until this past spring in Virginia. We're working on several new educational tools and I'll report on this in a future newsletter.

Now I'll have the chance to work with Lianne Holliday Willey in September in Grand Rapids. We've worked together on books, now we'll get to work together live. I'm really looking forward to this!

It's through these collaborations that we get instant feedback, criticism and different points of view. It sharpens the mind and without question vastly improves the work.
Thank you, my friends! Let's do this more often!

Pensacola Police Department's Take Me Home Database Debuts

The seeds were sown for this innovative special needs assistance program when Pensacola, Florida PD Officer Jimmy Donohoe attended a meeting last summer of the Panhandle Chapter of the Autism Society of America. Officer Donohoe heard first-hand the concerns that many parents there had about their wandering children who have autism. Officer Donohoe, also the parent of a special needs son, decided then and there to do something to assist. He approached Pensacola PD Chief John Mathis who gave the green light to spearhead the Take Me Home service.

The Pensacola PD worked in partnership with SmartCOP, a Pensacola-based law enforcement technology and software company, to develop Take Me Home.

The Take Me Home system is a database that is maintained at the Pensacola PD of persons who may need special assistance if they are alone. The system includes a current, digital picture, demographic information and caregiver contacts. If a person in the Take Me Home system is encountered by a Pensacola Police Officer, the officer can query the Take Me Home system by name or by the person's description to locate the person's Take Me home enrollment record. With the information at hand the officer can appropriately assist the person.

The Take Me Home system is designed for departments that utilize the SmartCOP onboard patrol vehicle computer technology. Over-the-air dispatching is minimized. Caregivers can be contacted by phone and provide key information directly to the first responder. Take Me Home is, of course, voluntary for those who participate.

The Pensacola Police Department was incepted in 1821 and continues to grow not only in personnel but also in technology, training and community outreach efforts.  About Take Me Home, Chief Mathis recently said, "We are excited to share with you this new service designed to provide enhanced service and protection to our citizens. I strongly believe, and try to instill the same philosophy in others, that it is by working together that we can make Pensacola an even better place in which to live."

When it comes to the Take Me Home program, Chief Mathis and the Pensacola PD strive to make everywhere a better place to live. The Take Me Home system is available to ALL public service agencies free of charge!!!

For further information and public service agency inquiries about Take Me Home, contact Crime Prevention Officer Jimmy Donohoe at 850-436-5416 or email

Kudos to Chief Mathis, Inspector Wendell Rich and Officer Jimmy Donohoe for creating Take Me Home. Write thanks to the Chief at:

Pensacola Police Department
711 North Haynes Street
Pensacola, FL 32501

Contact SmartCOP at: 270 North Palafox Street, Pensacola, FL 32502, phone 850-429-0082


News You Can Use
Our Friend Christina G. scours the World Wide Web daily for disability-related and newsworthy articles. Free of opinion, Christina's online news service is a daily must-read for me. It's as the name suggests: News You Can Use!
I get it in the daily digest version.
Subscribe directly at or contact Christina directly at:

Thanks, Christina!


Police are Honored for Autism Efforts

Virginia Beach, Virginia
by Margaret Windley

In late January, Beach police officer Rachel McGraw and Mark Pantak spotted a man breaking antennas off of cars in the Lake Edward neighborhood. When the officers approached him, the man wasn't able to give his name or address.

"We asked him to speak and he could not talk to us," said McGraw. "But he was doing the hand motions that are a sign of Autism." The officers provided a pen, pencil and some paper to divert his attention and he wrote his first name. After trying to find someone who might know him at a local mental health organization, the officers checked the man's clothing and found his full name. After running a check, they were able to learn where he lived. The incident was resolved peacefully because the officers had learned appropriate ways to work with people with autism through Autism In Law Enforcement, developed by U.S. Deputy Marshal, Nick Proffitt.

Chief Jacocks received a plaque from Autism Society and two officers, Rachel McGraw and Mark Pantak, one of whom could not be present, were honored for using their training in handling Autistic Individuals in ceremonies on April 26 at the Law Enforcement Training Academy.  Chief A.M. Jacocks Jr. received a plaque from JoAnna Bryant, president of the Tidewater Chapter of the Autism Society of America for his willingness to cooperate by providing proactive police programs that help autistic individuals and their families.


Autism Alert Window Gels

These gels alert first responders to the presence in a vehicle of an individual with autism. They can be used on whatever vehicle you are using, traveling in a rental car, for instance. The multi-use, easy on-easy off function offers great insurance! A superb autism awareness & safety tool!

Available through Didi Zaryczny. Email Didi at


Silent No More Communication Boards

The laminated board features 24 key communication situations. It utilizes
picture icons and words and phrases in English and Spanish as a way for
first responders to communicate with persons with autism and other cognitive
conditions, as well as non English speakers.

Contact Susan for details:
Phone 610-274-2364


Autism & Law Enforcement Video Update
The new Autism & Law Enforcement Briefing Booklet is now available in PDF format!
The purchase of every video comes with access to this companion informational and educational booklet that tracks the video and offers supplemental information.

It's available in PDF and comes in two formats:
1) Prints out as a booklet
2) Prints out as 8 1/2 x 11

Purchasers can email their choice to and the file will be emailed to you!

The Autism & Law Enforcement video continues to receive fantastic feedback and we're happy to announce that selected excerpts can be viewed online at the Dan Marino Foundation ChildNett TV.
A big thanks to Doug Bartel at the Dan Marino Foundation! Here are two links:

NOTE: This is online TV and not perfect. The full length video itself was recorded and edited in broadcast quality and is shipped in VHS standard video cassette format.

Stills, information and ordering options at:

Inquiries about: Special Edits & Production Runs, Excerpts or File Video Information, Bulk Purchase or Site License
Inquiries, Pre Purchase or Review copies:
Email or call 772-398-9756. Brad may answer the
phone. Tell him Hi! All calls will be returned!!


Book Orders Now Online

Signed copies of  Autism, Advocates and Law Enforcement Professionals: Recognizing and Reducing Risk Situations for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders, Dennis Debbaudt, 2002, Jessica Kingsley Publishers are now available online via PayPal at


Rising Bird Productions

A huge thanks goes out to Teresa Soler, Brant Dutton and Tim Mueller of Rising Bird Productions of Eugene, Oregon!! They are the talented group who created the site for the video. We're working with them to launch the new Autism & Law Enforcement web site. work is progressing., We hope to launch soon.

Rising Bird Productions are top shelf Design, Publishing, Business Services and Photography Professionals
Consider them for your on or off line needs. They're part of the autism community!!

Check out their web site at:


Autism & Airport Travel Safety Tips
Here's a reprint of an article I wrote back in 2001. Since summer is travel time, I offer it here FYI. The article is online at:
Please visit the Society for Accessible Travel & Hospitality

A guide for parents and carers
Autism & Airport Travel Safety Tips
November 23, 2001, Port St. Lucie, Florida
By Dennis Debbaudt

Traveling through airport security will never be the same. Every traveler passing through a security checkpoint will now encounter waiting in long lines, having to produce two forms of picture identification at multiple locations, mandatory questioning and inspections of personal belongings by strangers and the increasing likelihood of a light touch from a stranger holding a Geiger counter-like sound producing wand. When you add to the mix the possibility of a complete physical frisk or pat down - and the presence and scrutiny of armed, uniformed paramilitary personnel and contraband-sniffing dogs - the accompanying sensory-enhancing gauntlet of sounds lights and touch can tax the system of any traveler let alone one who has autism. This experience has quickly become standard operating procedure at U.S. airports.

People with autism, parents and caregivers may want to consider taking some extra measures to make passing through a security checkpoint easier.
As daunting as a security checkpoint is for some children and adults with autism, we must consider the point-of-view of the security professional. The behavior or characteristics of the child or adult with autism may make the security professional extremely anxious. Consider the reliance on visual cues and innocent echolalia a person with autism may display, such as repeating a phrase observed on a close-by poster. At a security checkpoint that phrase might include words that cite the laws or warn against the use of the words "bomb threat" or "hijacking." Someone who repeats this phrase would quickly come under suspicion at a security checkpoint. Those that repeat a question, run from or blanche at passing through a metal detector, or become over-anxious at attempts to touch them would also merit extra scrutiny. Left unexplained, the behaviors and characteristics of some person's with autism may delay their trip and cause unnecessary anxiety. These encounters are the types of situations that can easily escalate into misinterpretations, verbal and physical confrontations, physical containment and restraint.

As reported in my latest book, Autism, Advocates and Law Enforcement Professionals ( "Those with autism, parents and caregivers may want to consider carrying autism handout information which would at least include a basic autism brochure, and a person-specific handout that at least includes their picture, description, information about behaviors that security may find suspicious and the best way a security professional can communicate with or interact with that person. Many parents find business card handouts that might contain a message such as 'Perhaps my son/daughter's behavior is surprising to you. This is because he/she has autism', a brief definition of autism, and the phone number/website address of a local or national advocacy organization."

These are grass roots, one-on-one autism awareness campaigns. Make sure to carry enough generic information to leave behind with the security professionals you may encounter. Anyone reading this message can download the informational handout "Educating the Community...and Law Enforcement" at make copies and hand them out.

If possible, make travel plans well in advance. Call the airlines and security companies (soon to be mainly federalized) and ask what you can do to help the security experience go more smoothly for the person with autism and the security professionals they will interact with. If the trip has to be made suddenly, arrive extra early, bring plenty of handouts and explain to the gate agent what your needs are. Those that have the time may want to inquire with their air carrier about assistance plans they may offer inexperienced travelers. Northwest Airlines, for example, offers the Adult Assistance Program for a fee ranging from $40.00 to $75.00. This may prove to be money well spent. The program offers personal assistance from check-in, through security and boarding and through the destination airport.

While the program does not assist with eating, personal hygiene or medication issues, it does provide assistance through the crucial security checkpoints. Parents and caregivers of a passenger using travel assist can also pass through security with their loved even if they are not traveling with them. Special security passes would be issued in lieu of tickets. A program like Northwest Airlines' Adult Assistance could be utilized by caregivers even if they are traveling with a loved one.

Anticipating the worst is never a pleasant proposition. But it's something we do all the time in our everyday lives when we put on seat belts, lock our back doors, pay the life insurance. The downside for not doing these things is extremely negative in each example. But do we shudder in fear every time we do these things? Of course not. They are common sense options associated with everyday life. Taking extra precautions is also an everyday consideration that those with autism that can, parents and caregivers also become accustomed to taking. When traveling through our communities, and airports, taking the precautions -alerting security, carrying ID and informational handouts, considering the needs of others, anticipating the possibilities -can help make our trips and travel a lot safer and a lot more relaxing. Give yourself at least two weeks to seek the best that our airlines and airport security can offer. But it's never too late to alert the airlines and security professionals to a special request for assistance.
Contact author for reprint permission at:
© Copyright 2001 by Dennis Debbaudt

Special thanks to Mike Flotteron of Northwest Airlines for his assistance in preparing this report. Most major airlines offer programs similar to the Adult Assistance Program. Check with your air carrier about special travelers services they offer.

Here are links to other autism risk & safety online articles:

Beyond Guilt or Innocence, Dennis Debbaudt, EK Shriver Journal, 2004

Contact With Individuals With Autism by Dennis Debbaudt & Darla Rothman, Ph.D. FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin April 2001
Edited for Sheriff Magazine Issue March-April 2002


Upcoming Conferences & Workshops

Wednesday September 15th  Sunderland, United Kingdom  Autism Spectrum & Criminal Justice Seminar, University of Sunderland. email for details

Friday through Sunday September 17th, 18th & 19th Herning, Denmark
World Autism Organization General Assembly and Conference

The conference will focus on conditions for people with autism who live in the third world
Dennis Debbaudt Autism & Law Enforcement
Session Date & Time (TBA)
More information at:

Tuesday and Wednesday September 28th and 29th Grand Rapids, Michigan:
Adolescents and Young Adults With Asperger Syndrome: The Real World
The Eberhard Center
Grand Valley State University
On the River in Downtown Grand Rapids!
Dr. Liane Holliday Willey
Dr. Richard Howlin
Dennis Debbaudt 
Dennis Debbaudt Session Wednesday 29th from 8:00 to 11:30 AM
All details at

Thursday September 30th, Green Bay, Wisconsin. Email for details
October and beyond: Orlando ( October 5th), New Hampshire October 7th & 8th), Lake Charles, Louisiana
(October 18th), Chicago (October 28th)  Bloomington, Illinois (November 3rd), St. John's, New Brunswick-with Walter Coles (November 18th), Minneapolis (December 3rd) and others to be announced (TBA).
Several Fall dates are still open.

More Dates Announced Soon!!
Inquiries? Email: or call 772-398-9756 (Brad may answer
phone) for updates, new bookings or to schedule an event.
Now booking 2005 and beyond......


A big thanks to Pam Weiseman and Anne DeStefano of the Florida State University Center for Autism and Related Disabilities, everyone at the Panhandle Chapter of the Autism Society of America, and Officer Jimmy Donohoe for welcoming me to Pensacola. Jimmy took me to an Irish pub there that featured 250,000 one dollar bills that were signed by customers and stapled to the ceiling. An experience I won't soon forget! Great food, too!

I was also honored to present at the 35th ASA Conference Soaring To New Heights in Seattle last week. A big thanks go the ASA board and the Autism Society of Washington for all their hard work. The convention center and Seattle were beautiful. Seeing so many old friends and meeting new ones was the highlight for me. We had a lot of fun at the Friday Risk & Safety session.

I also want to thank Detective Specialist / Instructor Tony Favara of the New York Police Department's Emergency Service Unit (NYPD-ESU) for inviting  me to attend and complete the 40 hour Emergency Psychology Technician Training Program Managing Situations Involving Mentally Disturbed Persons. The course is a special program of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice-City University of New York in association with the NYPD-ESU and the NYPD Hostage Negotiation Team (HNT). Needless to say I learned a lot during that week in June and was honored to present to the class autism response tips. The ESU and HNT will receive an autism training package for their future training sessions.

On that note I've met the requirements for membership and joined the American
Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET). From

The American Society for Law Enforcement Training (ASLET) has been described as the "Association for those who teach and those who want to learn and improve law enforcement training."  We are dedicated to enhancing and promoting excellence in law enforcement training while increasing the effectiveness of our members to better serve their communities and society.
I'm dedicated to seeing autism issues represented professionally to law enforcement, first response, criminal justice, and emergency response professionals everywhere. We've come a long way on this since the early 90's--yet there's still a long way to go. With your help, we'll get there.

Again and always, I want to thank my wife Gay and son Brad for allowing me to get out here
and do this work.