Money needed to bring autism expert to Cape Breton
SYDNEY — The Autism Society of Cape Breton is looking to raise $20,000 to fund its plans to bring the world’s leading expert on autism training for law enforcement and emergency responders to Cape Breton.
The society has booked Dennis Debbaudt to come to the Sydney area to offer four days of training to upwards of 1,000 first responders in April.
Society executive director Michelle Gardiner said funding proposals will be sent to potential government and corporate supporters. In all, there will be six four-hour sessions. There will be a full day of training for police.
“Issues from meeting someone on the street right up to interrogation, because people with autism respond very differently, and in search situations, helping people to understand the differences when you’re searching for a person with autism,” Gardiner said.
The move to better prepare fire, police, search and rescue and other personnel for handling cases involving people with autism stems from the tragic death of James Delorey in December. The seven-year-old wandered away from his South Bar home, prompting a massive search of nearby woods. He was found two days later severely hypothermic and was airlifted to hospital in Halifax where he subsequently died.
“James was a hero, James changed the world, and we’re going to make darn sure that that happens,” Gardiner said. “James probably saved countless lives and it’s because he made us all come out of our silos ... and say, hey, we’ve got to talk to each other.”
With rates of autism rising — it now stands at about one in 100 — something like Delorey’s death was eventually bound to happen, she said.
How people with autism react in fire situations will be a particular focus of the training, she added, noting they tend to respond very differently from others, often choosing to hide rather than fleeing their homes.
“By next fall, if I’ve got anything to do with it, we’re going to be the best prepared and equipped first response community for dealing with people with autism,” Gardiner said. “We did the best we could with where we were, but I think we all realize we have a lot to learn.”
Gardiner is working with the Cape Breton Regional Police — particularly Const. Paul Ratchford and Chief Myles Burke — to develop an approach to better dealing with incidents involving people with autism. In addition to the education component, there are two other prongs to the plan — setting up a registry and developing a monitoring system with detailed information about individuals.
The society can be reached at 5672830.