"I was unprepared," he said of his autistic son, now 25. "My providing care for my child looked like a child abduction to others."
Raising awareness of autism among emergency responders and the general public is tantamount to providing safe care for those with the disorder, said Sen. Roy McDonald, R-Troy, one of the event's organizers.
"Special people need special love, and when special people are in an emergency situation they need special attention," said McDonald, whose grandson is autistic. "If this conference results in one person being protected or being helped, it's worth it."
McDonald mentioned the possibility of flagging autistic persons or homes in 911 databases to give responders a heads-up when answering a call, but according to Debbaudt, being aware of the problem is only part of the solution.
"Without the training, that would have no value to you," he said.
Autistic persons in an emergency situation may not respond to police commands, may not acknowledge pain or injury and could exhibit unpredictable behavior, such as running back into a burning house. Different approaches are required to get the intended result, said Debbaudt.
"Patience, taking your time, doing things differently will be the key to managing risk in field contact," he said.
On Wednesday night, about 20 caregivers and families with autism attended an informational session and had the chance to speak with Debbauldt. Through that interaction, they will be better prepared to interact with emergency personnel, said Anita Daly, chair of the autism council and Clifton Park supervisor.""