From August 23 to 26, Cornwall resident Jennifer Fullerton provided autism awareness training to local fire fighters. As of Friday, Fullerton has given 30 such free trainings in Eastern Ontario. Her last official training with our local fire department was six years ago.
Jennifer Fullerton has a master’s degree in education and teaches at Bridgewood Public School. She has a daughter with nonverbal autism, and before having her daughter she taught special education classes.
“People with autism are seven times more likely to have encounters with first responders,” Fullerton explained when asked what inspired her start doing these trainings, “Should my daughter be in a situation where I can’t talk for her, if the first responders are aware and pick up on the signs of somebody with autism, they can assess the situation to help calm her down or sooth her.”
Present for the training was retired inspector for the Cornwall Police Service, Bob Burnie. Bob has a 42-year-old son with autism and has seen firsthand how well meaning first responders can misinterpret the signs of autism. Fullerton has invited him to several of her trainings because even though they both have children on the spectrum, they are a great example that each individual with autism is different.
Fullerton was trained by Justin Lewis, founder of Fire Fighters vs. Autism, based in the US. The process to become a certified trainer took approximately six months. She followed Lewis’ curriculum, and they met several times on Skype. Her final test to get certified was giving a mock training online to her mentor.
As part of this initiative, fire trucks and other first responder vehicles in the area have been outfitted with Autism Kits. If first responders arrive at a scene where there is a child or adult with autism, these kits provide sensory stimulation to help individuals regulate themselves in an emergency.
Some items included in these kits are bubbles, fidget toys, and toys that light up. The kits also contain a Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS), rings with picture cards that help those with non-verbal autism communicate.
When asked if she has any other upcoming trainings, Fullerton shared that she will be training Ottawa rural fire departments next month and St. Lawrence College’s paramedics students in November.