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FFD receives ALEC Autism Training

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STOKES: Karl Stokes and his wife, April, are ALEC Autism Training instructors for Wabash Center. Karl is the fire chief for the Brookston/Perry Township Volunteer Fire Department and a captain in the Lafayette Fire Department. April works with autistic children at a school. They are also the parents of an autistic son.
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VITAL LESSONS: Frankfort firefighters received ALEC Autism Training Monday through Wednesday, with Karl Stokes, left, and his wife instructing. The three-hour classes are designed to help emergency personnel better understand Autism Spectral Disorders and help them recognize and approach individuals on the spectrum during stressful situations.

By AARON KENNEDY - akennedy@ftimes.com

The Frankfort Fire Department received ALEC (Autism and Law Enforcement Coalition) Autism Training Monday through Wednesday in its headquarters' training room.

The three-hour sessions were taught by Lafayette Fire Department Capt. Karl Stokes with the help of his wife, April. The training is designed to help first responders develop a better understanding of Autism Spectrum Disorders, recognize when an individual is on the spectrum and understand how to approach and help them during a moment of crisis.

“As part of this program, you have to be a firefighter to teach firefighters, and you also have to be a parent of an autistic child,” Stokes said. “My wife is here to help me as well. So, we teach firefighters, and we also have an EMS individual who teaches to EMS. I think we are still looking for a police officer to teach police officers. We are all getting the same information across the state, we are just getting it from our fellow colleagues.”

The class taught firefighters facts, characteristics, tips, techniques and helpful ideas. But none of that could come into play until they learned how to recognize that someone is autistic.

“The autistic community is out and about. They are very useful to society,” Stokes said. “Our son is out there. He looks normal. Sometimes he acts normal. Sometimes he doesn't.

“If you are not looking for it, it is kind of hard to recognize,” he added. “But then, from a first responder's point of view, you are there at one of their worst times. So, how they react to things versus how neurotypical people act during stressful times can be very unique. So, if you could pick up on a lot of those cues – we educate on what autism is and then on how to approach situations. Anything we can do to make that stressful time a little bit easier to deal with. A lot of it is what to do, how to approach, what not to do, and then a lot of things to look for. A lot of them come away very enlightened. There is stuff that they didn't think about.

“From a parent's point of view, we are here because we rely on these individuals to be the first ones there to try to do anything they can to make that seemingly bad situation as good as it can be and restore it to some type of normalcy.”

Fire Chief John Kirby was glad that his firefighters were able to receive the additional training.

“It was great training,” Kirby said. “They talked about what a firefighter needs to look for when they go into a home, like where an individual with autism may be hiding. They gave facts about autism, and they also talked about their personal experience with it as parents of an autistic child. It is valuable for the fact that when we go into a situation, it may explain somebody's behavior. It gives you signs to look for.

“It was a pretty good training for the guys,” he added. “This is something that we do. These credits count with our training hours. Our guys got three hours of EMS training. And it is always nice to bring in another perspective. It is free training offered to your department. Why wouldn't we want to do something like this? Of course we are going to be onboard for something like this.”