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For individuals with autism, learning to interact with first responders is critical. It is just as essential for first responders to understand autism and be prepared to respond effectively and safely to situations that arise involving individuals on the spectrum.

With that, here are 7 things people with autism want first responders to know…

“We know you are not our ‘friends’ and have a job to do, but treat us like your best friend. As individuals with autism, we will not comply well with aggressive tactics that will ultimately conjur a lifetime of memories involving bullying and exploitation. Remind us how things will be alright especially with our cooperation, and ask if there is anything you may do to make the process easier for us. Most importantly, ask if we have autism when you have the slightest inkling something may be a little ‘off.’ There have been numerous misunderstandings in society that have been resolved with no lingering trauma because the authority figures showed the mercy and compassion that had been denied by other citizens who were not on patrol that were guided by blind ignorance.”

– Jesse Saperstein

“Due to sensory issues from autism, when I am afraid or experiencing anxiety I may not respond to your questions like everyone else. I may shutdown completely or overreact. Typical people are wired neurologically like bottle water, not much happening. My neurological makeup is closer to carbonated Mountain Dew. When shaken, watch out!”

– Ron Sandison

“I would want first responders to know that sometimes, people with autism are very scared when first responders approach them because of the masks, suits, the yelling, and the disaster that’s happening. I would also want them to know that autistic people have a more sensitivity to our senses and because of that, we experience pain more or less than the average person does when they’re hurt. I also want them to know that we can tell if someone is stressed out and that it stresses us out. I think what would help us out a lot is if first responders approach us calmly and use gentle voices with us so we’re not so stressed out and scared. I also think what would help is first responders having a spare teddy bear, stress ball, or anything that we could squeeze or hug because it helps us calm down and release tension and stressed.”

– Taylor Orns

“Being on the autism spectrum can present plenty of challenges in everyday life, and these challenges can be even more intense when it comes to an emergency situation. First responders are often unaware of these challenges or how to handle them, which sometimes can lead to greater tragedy. Remember above all else that when you give instructions to an autistic person, we may be so overwhelmed by the emergency situation that we are unable to respond or signal understanding the way a neurotypical person would. But we are not purposely disobeying or resisting you; we are trying our best to cope with unbearable emotional and sensory overload.”

– Amy Gravino

“Autism is not a tragedy. Ignorance is the tragedy.’ For those first responders out there who educate themselves about those with autism to fight that ignorance in our society I’d just like to say thank you. When I present about growing up with autism I often say everyone you meet will have their own unique challenges but by being aware and accepting your impact will make a difference in our community.“

– Kerry Magro

Autism Speaks is committed to educating first responders about autism and best practices to help keep individuals on the spectrum safe in potentially dangerous situations through training, awareness and resources. To learn more, contact the Autism Response Team at 888-288-4762 or

Jun 12

8 Behaviors Often Mistaken For Depression


By Támara Hill, MS, LPC

Do you know someone who looks and appears depressed but denies it when confronted? Do you believe their rejection of your assessment of them? Could it be that they are”hiding,” covering their true emotions, or simply telling the truth? Even as a trained therapist I have seem my fair share of clients, primarily men and adolescent males, proclaim over and over that they are not depressed even when they appear that way. I ended up second guessing myself and desperately searching for a term, diagnosis, or phenomenon that could help me make sense out of what appeared to be depression. Little did I know, it was pretty simple.

We live in a nation that fervently seeks for answers for behaviors that we do not understand or that do not meet a certain set criteria. For example, mental health professionals will often engage families in learning about depression when a adolescent exhibits traits and behaviors that seem to be depression. Rarely, if ever, will a trained mental health professional ignore other reasons for behaviors that seem like depression. We are all susceptible to mistaking certain behaviors for something way more serious than it actually is.

When I was beginning in my field in an inpatient child and adolescent residential facility of very troubled and ill youngsters, I began to feel very tired. Every other day I felt more and more tired. I loved the work I did and I felt honored/humbled to be as close to troubled, yet wonderful youths who were mistaken to be “tarnished.” There wasn’t a day that went by that I did not have crippling fatigue or migraine headaches. I found myself developing, because of mild burn-out symptoms, a pessimistic view of today’s youths and their future. This pessimistic view most likely caused others to question whether I was depressed or not.

Trying to identify differences between depressed mood and normal temperament can be a very big challenge, especially for family and friends. It is important to learn the signs of depression so that you can decipher what may or may not be clinical depression. Unfortunately, because depression can be so very similar to other disorders or difficult temperaments, it is important to understand what is and is not a symptom of depression. Some of the following “symptoms” may be more temperament than depression:

Isolation: Believe it or not, some people prefer to be alone. Why? Well, a few reasons may be that they “rejuvenate” through isolation (introverts), they prefer thinking over socializing, or they are avoiding social settings because of a history of social ostracism, discrimination/racism, or bullying. Some people believe isolation is not a bad thing, especially if isolating will keep them from having to be disappointment and uncomfortable in the social arena. Have you ever heard of the saying “the quietest people have the loudest minds.”
Maturity or serious behavior(s): Some individuals grow up fast while others take a bit more time to become “real adults.” People who “act mature” are often regarded by their peer group as “depressed,” “old,” or “pessimistic.” Mature behaviors or serious thinking styles can cause others to regard the individual as depressed or sad. Many mental health professionals come across as more serious than others at times which can appear to be depression or pessimism. For example, while completing my counseling psychology program in graduate school I often had fellow-classmates make statements about me such as “why don’t you ever joke around in class” or “you do know that therapists can have fun…right?”
Not easily amused or “moved” by things: Some people are simply calm about almost every single thing in their lives. Nothing moves them. “Laid-back” people are sometimes underwhelmed and may not react to certain things like others would. For example, a wedding announcement or baby-announcement may not move the “laid-back” person like it would someone who is more reactive. For me, I tend to be “laid-back” and will only naturally respond to events that truly moves me to respond. Individuals who tend to be underwhelmed may or may not be depressed. It is important to consider the natural mood of the individual before assuming they are depressed.
Emotional or reactive behaviors: As stated above, some individuals are reticent and laid-back while others are not. Individuals who are reactive are often viewed by others as positive or optimistic. Individuals who are thoughtful and tend to react only when necessary, are often viewed as depressed or pessimistic. I’ve heard families of some of my laid-back teen client’s say “OMG. Just tell me already. Don’t you have any thoughts or feelings about this?”
Irritability: One of the hallmark features of depression for men and adolescent males is irritability. For women, depression is often characterized by tearfulness, depressed mood, or mood lability (i.e., changeable moods). But some irritability is temperamental and not based on mood. Temperament is personality and an irritable personality or temperament is not depression.
Substance abuse and use of alcohol: Self-medication with drugs and alcohol is often a “symptom” of depressed mood. But there are some individuals who will use drugs and alcohol for social purposes (i.e., engaging with others or interacting at parties) or because they are addicted/dependent. Substance abuse/dependency does not always = depression.
Anhedonia or lack of motivation: As difficult as it may be to believe, some individuals are born unmotivated. Individuals who seem to “take things in stride” or “does not care” may not be depressed. Again, temperament is often a major influence of personality. It is important to understand that individuals who have a positive temperament will most likely lose motivation if depressed. An individual who has always been unmotivated does not have to be depressed.
Interest in “dark” subjects such as death/dying, life challenges, tribulation, or sorrow: Individuals who like to listen to depressing or “dark” music (or read dark/depressing books/articles, etc.) does not have to be depressed. As you know, some people enjoy topics that speak about life challenges, death, or depressed moods/attitudes. This does not always insinuate a depressed mood. While many of us are drawn to things that “speak” to our challenges, primarily when struggling with some aspect of life, other individuals gravitate toward this kind of stuff all of the time.

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