If you're on Facebook, you may have recently seen updated profile pictures branded with the puzzle piece logo of the Autism Speaks organization. I changed my profile picture, since I have a family member who has autism. That's because April is National Autism Awareness Month.
In recent years, researchers have estimated that 1 in 45 American children are on the autism spectrum. That means over 1 million children in the United States could have a form of the disorder, which affects communication and behavior. Many of these individuals will react atypically during fires or other emergencies, which is why first responders need to be educated.
Last April, I interviewed Bill Cannata, a former firefighter in Massachusetts who now teaches first responders about autism, for an article in NFPA Journal. He spoke with me, among other things, about the importance of families who have a child with autism building a relationship with their local first responder agencies, and the importance of not avoiding fire safety training for children with autism just because it might be difficult.