SOA You Get What You Get

Autism Tips for Emergency Responders: You Get What You Get!

A guest post by Wanda Refaely, ICE4Autism.

SOA You Get What You GetIt’s like my son used to say about the color of the popsicle he got at snack time in preschool: You get what you get! Emergency calls sometimes come in with lots of information, but most of the time they don’t. As a first responder, it’s your job to attend to whatever is thrown at you, with however much, or little, information you’re provided. This is, undoubtedly, one of the greatest challenges in the field.

Picture this: You arrive on the scene of a motor vehicle accident and the driver is unconscious. In the passenger seat is a young adult male rocking back and forth and repeating “cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger”. You gently lean your head in and ask, “Are you OK?” The young man continues uninterrupted on his rant. “What’s your name?” you try again. “Cheeseburger” is all you get in response. You reach in and put your hand on the young man’s shoulder to calm him and he responds with a blood curdling scream.

Is the young man hurt? Has he suffered a concussion or brain injury? Can he even hear you? Maybe he doesn’t understand English? Could he be intoxicated, on drugs or is he mentally ill? Or… Maybe he has autism?

The techniques you implement and how you proceed will differ based on the response to each of these questions. In fact, how you assess the young man’s needs and condition may require an adaptation of your usual or customary protocols. But how do you know?

The best way to distinguish autism, as opposed to other possibilities, is through your powers of observation. The ability to recognizing the “signs” associated with autism is essential to responding appropriately. Though different in every person, autism is often characterized by communication differences, social challenges and unique – and often misinterpreted — behaviors.

A person with autism may exhibit repetitious behaviors – such as rocking, arm flapping or bouncing up and down; “echolalia”, the repetition of phrases or words and/or parroting back what someone has said to them; varied communication abilities which may require the use of a communication device; hyper or hypo-sensory responses including sensitivity to light, sound and touch; and an extreme pain threshold which may be unusually high or extraordinarily low. It is important to note, that autism is a spectrum disorder which means that it may be extraordinarily difficult to discern at all in some people while extremely severe in others.

All of this will all present added challenges for you, the first responder.

Getting back to our scenario, looking for the young man’s (and the driver’s) mobile devices and checking for an ICE (in case of emergency) app may be the single most productive action you take in attempting to figure out the young man’s needs. As the public’s reliance on mobile devices for everything from banking to restaurant reviews has blossomed, so has their use for safety purposes. The implementation of Bob Brotchie’s ICE concept – entering In Case of Emergency information in your cellphone — which went viral nearly a decade ago, has been broadly embraced around the world and is now highly prevalent. And, more specifically, the ICE4Autism mobile app, developed specially to address the unique needs of individuals on the autism spectrum is now used by those with autism, their families and caregivers. ICE4Autism can answer many of the pertinent questions that the driver may have been able to answer for you were she conscious: Who is the young man? Does he, in fact, have autism? How old is he? What is his blood type? Does he have any additional medical conditions? Allergies? How do you contact his emergency contacts? Are there any special instructions related to his care that would be helpful?

Proceeding with the young man’s care based on the valuable information gleaned from the ICE4Autism app is, obviously, preferred to proceeding “blindly”; but, you don’t get to choose – you get what you get.

You may need to move forward based on your observational assumption that the young man in our scenario IS on the autism spectrum. If so, turning OFF lights and sirens, for example, can dramatically reduce stress levels. Looking for and giving the young man what might be a “preferred item” may reduce his anxiety and thereby also improve his ability to respond and cooperate. Speaking in short, direct language and allowing extra time for him to respond will likely yield better results. And limiting physical contact to only the most essential preceded by an explanation of what you are about to do and what to expect are all good ideas.

Responding to a call involving a person with autism isn’t going to be a rare and unusual occurrence. The fact is that autism is the single fastest growing developmental disability in the United States today AND people on the spectrum are seven times more likely to interact with first responders. Being ready and knowing how to respond properly and safely to the unique needs and sensitivities of people with autism is now an essential part of the first responder job description because when the call comes in, you get what you get!


About Wanda Refaely

Wanda Refaely is passionate about and deeply committed to reducing the barriers to needs-conscious emergency and general care and treatment for individuals with an autism spectrum disorder. She is the founder of ICE4Autism, the ONLY autism-specific in case of emergency mobile app, and is an active contributor to the autism safety and emergency preparedness arena. Wanda’s involvement in the autism community began with her participation in the advocacy and lobbying efforts leading to the passage California’s autism insurance reform law (SB946). She continues to work as an independent consultant specializing in assisting autism treatment providers with their insurance contracting, credentialing and clinical audit needs. Wanda also volunteers as a board and executive committee member at Include Autism, a San Diego autism inclusion and education non-profit. She is a proud mom whose son has been, and continues to be, her inspiration, motivation and her greatest source of joy.

More information:

On the web:

On the App Store:

Via email:

On Twitter: @ICE4Autism

On Facebook: ICE4Autism Mobile App


Great ShakeOut Earthquake Drill – Who Will Be Joining My Family?

ShakeOutEveryone, everywhere, should know how to protect themselves, their family and their business in an earthquake. As a CERT member and vocal disaster preparedness advocate, I’m thrilled to be participating with my family in the world’s largest earthquake drill.

Earthquakes have certainly been a huge topic both in the news and in Hollywood. The April 2015 Nepal earthquake killed more than 9,000 people and injured more than 23,000. San Andreas, a 2015 disaster film, portrays how a seemingly ideal day turns disastrous when California’s notorious San Andreas fault triggers a devastating, magnitude 9 earthquake, the largest in recorded history. While the Nepal earthquake is an unfortunate reality, thankfully the movie San Andreas was mainly fiction. To help learn more about earthquake facts the several organizations have offered many resources, including for those who have family members with Autism or other needs. (I recommend that my readers go here first for information.)

I’m in Atlanta, Georgia. You may be thinking, “Atlanta? Earthquakes? I can see being prepared for a tornado, but come on. Georgia doesn’t have earthquakes.” It’s that kind of “it won’t happen to me” thinking that gets us all in trouble when it comes to emergency preparedness. Guess what – in the past year alone, Georgia has experienced seven earthquakes. In my research I also found a great deal of Georgia earthquakes that caused significant damage dating back to 1811.

The USGS provides much information about earthquakes on their website. Click

image courtesy of

image courtesy of

here to learn more.

Even if earthquakes are rare where you live, they may happen where you or your family travel. While earthquake hazard varies from region to region, most of the Southeast really is prone to earthquakes. You could be anywhere when an earthquake strikes: at home, at work, at school or even on vacation.

What you do now will determine your quality of life after our next big earthquake. Are you prepared to survive and recover quickly?

What is Great ShakeOut?

shakoutGreat ShakeOut Earthquake Drills are an annual opportunity for people in homes, schools, and organizations to practice what to do during earthquakes, and to improve preparedness.

By participating, you and your family can practice how to be safer during big earthquakes: “Drop, Cover and Hold On.” The ShakeOut has also been organized to encourage you, your community, your school, or your organization to review and update emergency preparedness plans and supplies, and to secure your space in order to prevent damage and injuries. Below I have listed the Seven Steps to Earthquake Preparedness. You may wish to copy these bright images and laminate them as part of your family preparedness plan to have on hand as an aid for communication. Laminating them will help them to last longer.

Also, remember that when a disaster hits one should be ready to either shelter in place or evacuate. For children and adults with Autism that means extra care in planning is required. It is a good idea to communicate with your local First Responders about the needs of your family and share with them some tips on how to help a child or adult with Autism during these stressful situations.

Read about Apps to help with disaster response when your family has a member with Autism

Why Register for ShakeOut?

Not only will you find many safety tips, like having a disaster kit that applies to tornadoes and hurricane safety as well, but families with individuals with special considerations or are non English speaking will find a plethora of resources.

  • Be counted in the largest-ever earthquake drill in the Southeast!
  • Be listed with other participants in your area (Optional)
  • Be an example that motivates others to participate & prepare
  • Be updated with ShakeOut news and preparedness tips
  • Have peace of mind that you, your family, your co-workers and millions of others will be better prepared to survive and recover quickly from our next big earthquake!

Don’t just register, get involved! Join the ShakeOut community and participate in the weekly Tweetchat on Wednesdays from 2-3 pm EST. This Wednesday, July 22nd, I will be tweeting live during the Tweetchat! Join me, @SpiritOfAutism, and be sure to use hashtags #ShakeOut and #DropCoverHoldOn. Don’t forget to upload pictures of you and your family registering for Great ShakeOut!

join us

Seven Steps to Earthquake Safety


  1. Secure your space (a list of how to do that here)
  2. Plan to be Safe (and review and practice your plan with your family members)
  3. Organize your disaster supplies – don’t forget to add any special objects that help your child to transition or feel more comfortable. Especially if you are relocated to a shelter or another’s home.
  4. Minimize financial hardship. Remember that your basic home or renter insurance most likely will not cover earthquakes.


  1. Here is where you Drop- Cover and Hold On! Remember to practice this during the ShakeOut drill and several other times during the year.
  2. Improve Safety. After an earthquake happens be sure to check on people nearby for any injuries. Evacuate if need be.

And after the Earthquake happens Step 7 is to Recover and Restore with daily life by repairing anything broken and assuming daily routine when possible.

Images for use and download to help with communication and to create social stories:


water heater cell
disaster kit documents
drop cover hold on recover

Event First Aid: The Distraction Technique and Autism

32270_10150161038395184_1381207_nAs an auxiliary first responder who works first aid booths at community events like airshows, parades, road races, festivals and the like and an adult with Asperger’s, I have discovered some good techniques to aid me in my duties when I am providing first aid for a person and/or child with or without special needs such as Autism.

One technique I love to use is distraction. Distracting an individual helps to interrupt the neurological process that allows a person to feel and know what is happening to them at the current time. We all know when working in public safety we work in pairs for safety, camaraderie, and and other reasons. We are going to add another reason to work in pairs, especially when responding to an Autistic individual who needs medical attention. That reason is for one responder to provide treatment while the other distracts the injured individual with things such as conversation about the patient’s favorite subject, a toy such as a stuffed animal or metal slinky, or even blowing up a nitrile glove like a balloon and drawing on it. Remember that whatever items you use needs to be age appropriate and safe for the child.

Another situation I have encountered is lost individuals. When an individual such as a child or person with Autism, who sometimes cannot communicate or care for themselves, becomes separated from a family member they are usually brought to the first aid room which doubles as the lost and found room. This is so we as first responders can watch over and care for them until their caregiver is found and are reunited. This may take time so you need to have some ways to occupy an individual that may have Autism or similar issues. Some items you may want to keep are crayons and paper, Play-dough, coloring books, and a deck of cards. These items can be used as distraction until the individual is reunited with their family or caregiver. So to recap our new tools and items that we can use with the distraction technique are:

  • Conversation about patient’s favorite topic or obsession
  • Stuffed animal
  • Slinky
  • Crayons with paper
  • Coloring book
  • Play-dough
  • Deck of cards

I hope these tools and ideas will help you in your future response to an individual in need at an event or large gathering.

Austin is a certified and experienced Skywarn Storm Spotter, Ham radio operator, 11232116_10155647656030184_4068160658730913034_nCommunity Emergency Response Team Instructor.  He is currently pursuing a degree in Criminal Justice at Gwinnett Technical College and hopes to one day pursue an EMT certification and certification as a State of Georgia Emergency Manager. He brings a wealth of knowledge to Spirit of Autism with years of research and experience in emergency preparedness and as an adult with Autism.

ICE4Autism Home Screen

Weekly Autism Tips for Emergency Responders: ICE4Autism Interview

I’m so excited to have connected with Wanda Refaely, creator of ICE4Autism, the only Autism-Specific In Case of Emergency (ICE) App. This awesome app provides first responders and medical personnel with actionable information quickly and effectively.

For families,

it’s a fantastic way to be prepared for situations that we never think will happen but, in reality, could. Some features include:

  • How you communicate — includes a drop down menu of commonly used communication devices and languages, and a place to describe how you communicate and want to be communicated with

  • Your unique behaviors and triggers —  includes a drop down menu listing behaviors commonly associated with autism PLUS the option to enter your own details including telling first responders and medical staff how best to  respond to make YOU more comfortable

  • Important Treatment Information — describe any issues, concerns and sensitivities that could be vital to YOUR proper care and overall comfort level AND describe ways to reduce your anxiety

ICE4Autism can also send an emergency alert text message —  including your GPS location and a link to your location pinned on Google Maps — to your designated emergency contacts. Parents, spouses, caregivers and service providers can come to your side, advocate for you and help you through the ordeal.

For responders,

simply launch the ICE4Autism mobile app and you as a first responder, ER doctor, nurse or administrator have immediate access to the critical the information needed to treat the patient properly while helping to reduce what is sure to be a heightened level of anxiety.

Emergency situations are challenging for everyone. But add in sensory, communication and behavioral challenges, and an emergency can turn into a disaster for a person with Autism and the responders trying to help them.

Below is the video interview I did with Wanda, as well as the screen shots she mentioned in the broadcast. Please feel free to like and share the video, you’ll help more people be prepared for emergencies!

ICE4Autism My Autism

ICE4Autism Home Screen


Help Me Illuminate the Future for Those with Autism

logo_waad-227x300As you know, I am extremely involved in the Autism community, both to support my son and in the Emergency Preparedness/Emergency Responder arena. I am blessed and honored to be training some of Georgia’s finest men and women in uniform – Law Enforcement, EMS, Fire Rescue and Disaster Responders – on how to recognize and safely interact with Autistic persons on the scene of a crime, fire, medical call or disaster. My goal is to have all of Georgia’s responders trained within the next 18 months. The Autism Society of Georgia is helping me do that by fully endorsing my training programs!

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. 

Please join the Autism Society of Georgia and me by helping us illuminate the future and create awareness for Autism.

For as little as $5.00 you can help us light a luminary for 1 child or adult.

There are over 150,000 children and adults in Georgia identified with Autism and we are making a difference. And, because my training programs are critical to the safety of the Autism community, the Autism Society of Georgia is giving 20% back to Spirit of Autism when you donate through my unique link so that I can continue to provide this training.

If you feel inspired to, you can click here to go to mydonation page or head over to Autism Society of Georgia’s The Future is Bright website to learn more about the campaign. From there you can choose Spirit of Autism on the right hand side by clicking my logo.

Thank you for being a part of MY community. I know you haven’t heard from me regularly in a while… I apologize! I’m almost done with Advanced EMT school and can come up for air soon : ) Now back to my IV drip conversions and drug calculations!



Spirit of Autism Web TV Episode 1 – Summer Safety

As parents and caregivers of someone with Autism, you know as well as I do that safety is a concern year-round. However, it is heightened during the summer. This premier episode of Spirit of Autism Web TV focuses on two vital aspects of summer safety: wandering and emergency preparedness. Join me as I interview Erin and Bruce Wilson of QR Code ID and my friend, Austin Harris, about how to prepare your 72-hour kit to be prepared for what this crazy severe weather may bring to your neighborhood!

Thanks for tuning in! Look for the next episode on Wednesday, August 13 at 9:45 pm on We’ll be talking about transitioning back to school among other great topics!


Operation Get Autism Training – Calling All Volunteers

J-Bird2Happy New Year! I’ve got a special announcement for you – something I’ve been working on diligently over the last several weeks. It’s finally ready…

Operation Get Autism Training is here.

As you know, I’m the parent of a very special boy with Autism, and also an Emergency Responder. I have a unique perspective – I’ve relied on Emergency personnel in times where my son has wandered, received injuries, or caused a public disturbance. I’ve also responded to incidents involving these very same situations.

Without understanding what to look for, Emergency Responders may mistake your child’s behavior and symptoms for drug use, mental illness or non-compliance. What could happen? They may get injured, thrown in jail… or worse.

Over the past four years I have developed multiple customized training programs for Disaster Responders (CERT), Police Departments, Fire Departments, Campus/School Security, EMTs, and even department heads at large a tourist/event facility.

I have had the privilege of training these willing and enthusiastic groups myself and I’ve loved every minute of it. I know I am making a difference in people’s lives every time I teach this program.

But it’s no longer enough. I’m getting tired of the senseless shootingsmissing children reports and Amber alerts, and severely escalated incidents involving Autistic children that are part of today’s frightening reality and now I need your help.

I’ve put together a call for volunteers – Autism Warrior Moms and Dads like me – to come together and make a global difference.

Operation Get Autism Training Goals for 2014:

  • Build a Fierce, Dedicated Team of Volunteers
  • Obtain Accreditation for EMS Continuing Education
  • Obtain P.O.S.T. Certification for Law Enforcement Continuing Education
  • Seek Out and Obtain Corporate Sponsorships
  • Press Releases and National Media Reach
  • Research and Apply for Grants and Funding for Training Materials
  • Create a Video Training Series
  • Get as Many Agencies and Responders Trained as Possible

It’s time to reach beyond our home towns. I can’t do this alone. I need a team behind me with me that’s ready to make a difference. Together we can make this happen.  So if you’re passionate about not only helping your own child but the thousands of children that don’t have a voice – join me. Volunteer with Operation Get Autism Training today and let’s get our Emergency Responders trained!

Click through to this page to sign upWe will have regular conference calls, a private Facebook group to collaborate, share and inspire, and I know we can bring our individual strengths to the table to create a movement together!

autism safety training

Ch-ch-ch-changes Coming for Autism Safety Training

Wondering where I’ve been? (Me, too. No, wait – that’s my sanity! That’s what’s been missing…) I’ve been agonizing over not bringing you my usual stories, tips and tools on a regular basis. I apologize, it’s been a very challenging summer.

My son has had a mystery illness for eight weeks that is taking all my time and energy at the moment. Who needs sleep? I’m happy to report the situation is letting up some, no thanks to the $1,000+ I’ve spent on doctors so far! Please keep up your prayers and positive thoughts for us :)

Aside from all that, I wanted to let you know what’s in the works…

Big News for Spirit of Autism

I’ve recently been called to serve the Autism community in a new way. I’ve already stepped into this new calling and I’m excited to keep the momentum going!

My Autism Training program for Emergency Responders has gained a lot of buzz and credibility in the community, especially since I just graduated the Citizen Police Academy and have become a Volunteer in Police Service. Being a part of this side of public safety rounds out my fire rescue and medic experience nicely and helps me reach more recruits, officers and detectives with this vital information.

The biggest joy for me has been the recent requests for custom versions of my training outside of public safety, including:

The schools in my county are suggesting I train their social workers, guidance counselors and administrators. Wow! Being able to customize the training for different groups while maintaining the integrity of the information has inspired me to reach out to additional businesses to participate in the training:

  • Daycare Centers
  • Campus Staff and Security
  • Event Facilities
  • Mall Security
  • Healthcare Facilities
  • Airline / Airport Employees

This is so exciting for me to be able to create not just Autism awareness but Autism action.

Asked to Never Return Again…

Personally, my son and I have been kicked out of so many retail establishments, restaurants, and festivals / parties because the staff did not understand the behaviors they were seeing. The school used to call me three times a week to pick him up during the school day because they couldn’t “reel in his behavior”. Even Delta Airlines asked us never to return when my son was three because he was having trouble sitting still in his seat and his ears hurt. I haven’t gotten on a plane in 8 years because of this. He wasn’t even being that disruptive in many of these situations!

It’s time to stop being left out. It’s time to stop avoiding public spaces with my family because business owners and employees are afraid of what they don’t understand.


Keep your eyes open for the launch of the NEW Spirit of Autism website. I will still offer practical tips and tools and some products for parents and caregivers, but it won’t be the main focus. I will still keep up the Blog, send great recipes and recommendations in my newsletter, and offer more Emergency Preparedness information for Autism families.

The new site will have a special section for Autism Safety Training for Businesses and more in-depth information for Emergency Responders. I am also launching to go hand in hand with this movement. Additionally, I will be looking for corporations to sponsor or offer scholarships for some of the Emergency Responders and smaller businesses that do not have the budget for this training program but really need it.

Keep your eyes peeled! I’m also open to more ideas from you – what other types of businesses or groups do you think could benefit from my Autism Safety Training program? Share by commenting below or posting to the SOA Facebook page!


Atlanta Makes Top 10 Tornado City List – Are You Prepared?

11 Alive recently reported that Atlanta is among the top ten cities across the nation where homes are most likely to be hit by a tornado, according to a new list from The Weather Channel.

Instead of just counting numbers of tornadoes as they did in preparation of releasing previous lists, this year The Weather Channel’s severe weather expert gathered data from the National Weather Service from between 1962 and 2011, and noted the areas within 75 miles of the highlighted cities, and included data on length and width of the storms’ damage paths.

Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia are noted to have been hit more often than areas that one would consider traditional tornado areas.

In recent years, Atlanta and Nashville both have had tornadoes hit their downtown areas, which flies in the face of the common thought that tornadoes tend to avoid urban areas.

The top 10 cities for tornadoes include:

10 – Nashville
9 – Wichita
8 – Atlanta
7 – Oklahoma City
6 – Tulsa
5 – Little Rock
4 – Tuscaloosa
3 – Birmingham
2 – Jackson
1 – Huntsville

Are You Prepared?

Get Notified. If you have a weather radio, that’s great! But here is a great service available to everyone that allows you to be notified by your local emergency response team in the event of emergency situations or critical community alerts. Examples include: evacuation notices, bio-terrorism alerts, boil water notices, and missing child reports.

Sign up for Code Red now – it’s FREE!

Make Your 72-Hour Kit. Make sure you have a 72-hour kit assembled for each family member ready to go. It could be the difference between life and death. Remember that it could take emergency personnel at least three days to reach you in the event of a disaster.

What do you put in your kit? Here is a great comprehensive list of what should go in each family member’s kit so you can survive up to three days. This page includes a link to a printable checklist which is extremely helpful.

If you have a child or family member with Autism you will need to be even more resourceful to maintain order in a time of great chaos. Here is a list of what to include in your Autistic child’s 72-hour kit.

Have a safety plan. After you create a safety plan, hold a family meeting to go over the plan with all members of the family. This will help your children get familiar with the plan in case of emergency. It is a great idea to go over the plan at least twice a year (once at the start of each “tornado season” in your area).

My children get very disgruntled with me when I use the fog machine to set off the smoke alarms at 3 am… but they know what to do now in the case of a fire!

Decide where your family should go in the event of a tornado. If your family has a basement or a partial basement that is underground, you should certainly go there. Pick a place that is away from windows and doors. When a tornado hits close to your home, one of the first things that may happen is that your windows will blow out. You don’t want to be near them when this happens, or the glass may cut you.

If you don’t have a basement (like us!) you can find other places that are safe to be in your home during inclement weather. Choose to get in a closet, under a stairwell, or in a central room. Bathrooms without windows are also great places, as the piping in the walls can act as a barrier between you and the weather outside.

You may want to plan an emergency word that should only be used in case of emergency. Make sure everyone in your family knows the word and what to do when it is spoken.

Practice, practice, practice! Emergency officials train constantly in order to be effective on their job; if you want an effective emergency plan, you and your family should practice what to do.

How about you? Tell me about your family’s safety plan by commenting below or posting it on the SOA Facebook page!

autism monkey joes

Autism Resource Fair and Monkey Joe’s Gives Back!

I’ve got two fantastic announcements for my fellow Atlantans!

This Saturday, join One DeKalb and Center for Leadership in Disability at the DeKalb County Resource Fair. It’s an opportunity for families of children and adults diagnosed with Autism to learn about and connect with agencies and organizations that provide Autism services and supports for DeKalb County residents.

You can come visit me at my booth – I’ll be talking about Autism Disaster Preparedness and Autism Safety at home. I’ll have an example of a 72-hour Disaster Kit and will be raffling off a special gift!

Remember, this Saturday, April 27

10:30 am – 1:30 pm at the Manual Maloof Administration Building  in Downtown Decatur

1300 Commerce Drive | Decatur, GA 30030

To register click here or contact Donna Johnson at 404-413-1427

I hope to see you there!


Monkey Joe’s Lawrenceville gives back to the community with Special Needs Night!

Every third Thursday of the month from 6 – 7:30 pm Monkey Joe’s closes its doors to the general public and welcomes special needs kids aged 12 and under and their siblings. Admission is FREE!

As you can see here, Justin had a blast!

As a parent of a (loud) child with Autism, I took great comfort in knowing that my son and I were not going to be kicked out of a public place because he was screaming, running around incessantly, or needed a sensory break. We were greeted with a warm welcome and checked in with frequently during our visit.

I love what Monkey Joe’s is doing for the special needs community – I certainly hope more businesses are inspired by their Special Needs night.

We hope to see you there for their next Special Needs night on May 16 at Monkey Joe’s Lawrenceville | 665 Duluth Highway | Lawrenceville

Call 770-338-7529 for more information!