On May 25, 2016, the Department of Public Safety at St. Mary’s College of Maryland (SMCM) hosted a training workshop provided by Pathfinders for Autism. The workshop, attended by first responders from across the state, taught how to address situations involving persons with Autism Spectrum Disorders and other Intellectual or Development Disabilities (ASD/I/DD).The program holds the event for a variety of institutions throughout Maryland, including the MD State Police and The Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems.
The training session at SMCM lasted four hours. Using a variety of sample situations, first responders learned more on how to positively impact their course of action when interacting with ASD/I/DD community members. The training describes how disabilities may manifest themselves, how to recognize those signs and overcome the barriers ASD/I/DD individuals may face- from communication to sensory barriers. Dealing with ASD/I/DD is a challenge for law enforcement, whose goal it is to avoid unnecessary harm. With the training, they are closer to that goal.
Tressa Setlak, director of public safety at SMCM, helped to bring Pathfinders to the college. The Baltimore-based program has put the curriculum together for the state of Maryland, after new national mandates were put into place requiring all first responders receive training on the subject. First responders have until December 31, 2017 to receive approved training. This is the first instance of ASD/I/DD-related training St. Mary’s County first responders have had, and Maryland is ahead of other states in providing it. Setlak has identified what the training provides as an issue of extreme importance: according to the CDC, 1 in 6 children have a developmental disability and 1 in 68 children have been identified with an autism spectrum disorder. It’s an immediate concern, and training will enable her staff members to better serve and have more productive interactions with the college community. The whole of the SMCM Public Safety staff attended the event.
Even with the training completed, there’s more to be done. Setlak is planning on bringing a version of the training to the general public, as the Pathways event was reserved for first responders. She’s also working with the Autism Spectrum Support Group of Southern Maryland to host a family workshop, and with the SMCM Wellness Center to facilitate the connection with the community.