ShareThis Page

DA offers officers autism awareness services

| Wednesday, May 7, 2014, 7:36 p.m.

Autism Society of Pittsburgh President Dan Torisky knows how hard it can be to recognize on the spot that someone has autism.

“It often takes a psychiatrist several hours to properly reach a diagnosis,” he said.

So, for emergency responders, such as emergency medical technicians or police, knowledge that they are responding to a situation involving a person with autism can be a big help.

The Allegheny County District Attorney's office last week announced new services for Allegheny County parents of children with autism and caregivers of people with dementia, along with more training for both law-enforcement officers and parents of those with special needs.

The second phase of this countywide effort encourages those parents or caretakers to register with local police departments. About 3,000 packets, containing forms for personal information and stickers for home and car windows, now are available at all local departments.

The information can describe the person as deaf, blind or having intellectual disabilities or dementia. It can call attention to a person's use of oxygen or fear of dogs. The information will be sent to Allegheny County's 9-1-1 Communications Center to be used in an emergency.

“As we looked around the country, we saw stories of more and more actions misinterpreted, sometimes with unfortunate results,” said Deputy District Attorney Tom Swan, who is on the board of directors of the Autism Center of Pittsburgh and whose son has autism.

Swan co-produced a 20-minute DVD, “Encountering Autism,” that was given to each of the county's 130 municipalities earlier this year as part of the program's first phase.

One in 68 children in the U.S. has an autism-spectrum disorder, according to a report released in March by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“It teaches our officers how to handle it,” Carnegie police Chief Jeffrey Kennedy said. “Police should know how to deal with people who have autism.”

Parents also can sign up for Project Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization that responds when adults or children wander because of issues with Alzheimer's, autism and other conditions. Those enrolled wear a small personal transmitter around the wrist or ankle that emits a tracking signal. If a client goes missing, the caregiver notifies a local Project Lifesaver agency, and a team responds.

Two officers from each of these departments are being trained to track those who wander: Aspinwall, Bethel Park, McKeesport, Millvale, Moon Township, Monroeville, Northern Regional, Pittsburgh, Elizabeth Borough and Munhall, Swan said.

The closest team will travel to the jurisdiction to assist in the search.

Money seized during drug prosecutions is paying for equipment for families such as tracking bracelets, which cost $300; batteries; locking devices; and door alarms, Swan said.

The third phase of the program will be the training of caregivers and teachers, who deal with people with special needs who are higher functioning.

Patrick Varine is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7845 or Staff writer Megan Guza contributed to this report.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.