Monmouth County 9-1-1 operators are taking the lead when it comes to autism awareness. Public safety telecommunicators from the Monmouth County Sheriff’s Office Communications Division are the first group of operators in the state who were trained on how to prepare themselves when responding to calls involving individuals with autism. “Operators need to take a different approach when dealing with a 9-1-1 call regarding an individual with autism who is missing or hurt,” said Sheriff Shaun Golden. “They must be equipped with information on autism, so they can effectively assist the caller, and, prepare first responders about the emergency situation involving an individual with autism.”

Each of the sixty seven public safety telecommunicators from the Monmouth County 9-1-1 Communications Center were the first to receive five hours of training from Frank Hines, an autism awareness trainer with the New Jersey Department of Health, and, a parent of a child with autism. According to the Centers for Disease Control, New Jersey has some of the highest rates of autism in the nation, with one in every 94 children being diagnosed as autistic.

“The increase of our autistic community has ultimately resulted in an increase of law enforcement and first responder contacts, and, that begins with 9-1-1 operators who take the call. That is why it’s vital they are equipped with the right information,” said Hines.

Through the training course, operators are briefed on what questions need to be asked when dealing with an emergency situation regarding an individual with autism. Those questions include if the individual is verbal or non verbal, how he or she interacts with people, what if any unusual behaviors does the individual have, has the individual wandered off before, and, if so, where? Individuals with autism often gravitate towards water, and, drowning is the leading cause of death among that population. Once that information is gathered by the operators, they will pass it to responding agencies on how best to approach the situation, as well as decide if additional first responders need to be dispatched. They can also inform parents about Project Lifesaver, an electronic monitoring program for individuals with autism and Alzheimers.

“Public safety telecommunicators and members of the law enforcement community need to be educated about this disorder or they can be at a disadvantage when it comes to assisting individuals with autism,” said Sheriff Golden. “I’m proud of the commitment the sheriff’s office has made which places our public safety telecommunicators at the forefront of autism awareness.”