Stratford fire initiative focuses on improving emergency experience for people with autism

Parents can submit an online form that lists their child's needs, triggers and interests to help first responders plan ahead for smoother communication.

Tom Krosnowski and Rose Shannon

Apr 4, 2024, 4:22 PM

Updated 48 days ago

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The Stratford Fire Department has started a new initiative that focuses on improving the emergency experience for those with autism.
The department is collaborating with the Linked-Autism Safety Project.
Ashley McClain started the program based on her experiences as a mom whose son, Colton, is on the autism spectrum.
"I'm learning about autism and the special needs community every single day. If you're not affected by it, you don't know the day-to-day struggles that happen," says McClain.
The North Branford resident is also the daughter of a retired firefighter and knows the needs of first responders.
McClain tells News 12 she saw there was room for improvement.
"The resources are wonderful and the information sharing is wonderful, but it's the relationship building that's the most important. For our community to be able to know that we can trust and respect the first responders, and for the first responders to understand the differences of our community, is huge," says McClain.
McClain has trained fire, police and EMS departments in nearly 20 communities across state. Stratford is McClain's first collaboration in Fairfield County
Parents can submit an online form that lists their child's needs, triggers and interests to help first responders plan ahead for smoother communication.
"If someone has a sensitivity issue to lights and noises, they know maybe to not have the lights and sirens on when they approach the home or that individual. It can just calm the situation down," she says.
Along with being trained on the needs of someone with autism, Stratford firefighters now carry sensory packs to make communication easier.
"We carry a pair of glasses that can be used for people that have light sensitivity. There's headphones here for noise sensitivity. We have different fidget spinners and toys, as well as a sensory sock that might help someone feel more comfortable," says Lt. Chris Drobinske.
The bags also include whiteboards and picture communication systems for those who are nonverbal.
Drobinske says the bags have already made a difference.
"Just last night, I was able to utilize that training. We had a motor vehicle accident that involved someone who had autism and they were nonverbal. We were able to put that training right to work, and it helped us communicate with them and better serve the community," he says.
"The other day, I was driving with my son in the car, and he pointed to a police car and said, 'Policeman, nice.' He was very excited to acknowledge the police officer. My son has grown up in a firehouse because of my father, but he was always afraid of an ambulance. Now, he can comfortably get in an ambulance," says McClain.


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