By Any Means Necessary: Print communication key to interact with autistics

Joshua Vissers/Daily Mining Gazette Janel Summers, a special education instructional coach at Copper Country Intermediate School District, instructs officers and employees of the Keweenaw County Sheriff’s Office on how to better communicate with people with autism.

ALLOUEZ — Keweenaw County Sheriff personnel receive training on how to better communicate and assist people on the autism spectrum, or who otherwise lack functional speech, by Janel Summers, an autism consultant and special education instructional coach with the Copper Country Intermediate School District (CCISD).

“The better we can communicate with people, the better outcomes we’re going to have,” said Keweenaw County Sheriff William Luokkanen.

According to Luokkanen, their office has been seeing more people who are nonverbal for various reasons. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the occurrence of autism spectrum disorders has increased to 1 in 59 from 1 in 150 in 2000.

People with autism can have an especially difficult time with emergency situations like car accidents or structure fires. They’re often highly sensitive to lights, sounds and changes in their routine.

“Most don’t have a relationship with the police,” Summers said.

This makes things difficult for both people when an officer is trying to assess a situation and keep it under control. Someone with autism may not respond to questions or verbal commands and can act in ways that seem erratic to others.

Another important factor is each person with autism has their own idiosyncrasies and behaviors.

“It makes things tricky,” Summers said.

The major tool that Summers presented the group was a communication board. The board comes with a dry-erase marker and has illustrations on it to help someone explain what is wrong and what they need.

The board allows individuals on the scene to select images for location and severity of pain, needed medication and other support, or simply write out what they want to communicate.

Summers said the board is a good tool not only for those with autism, but also Alzheimer’s Disease, speech impediment or cognitive impairment.

“Even just really young kids who are unable to explain what’s going on,” she said.

While some people with autism will carry their own communication board, Summers provided the attendees with a laminated version to practice with and keep with them.