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Dubuque firefighters teach, but also learn from kids and adults with autism

Dubuque firefighters meet with clients and residents from Hills & Dales on Wednesday, March...
Dubuque firefighters meet with clients and residents from Hills & Dales on Wednesday, March 28, 2018.(KCRG)
Published: Mar. 28, 2018 at 1:46 PM CDT
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Hills and Dales in Dubuque organized a trip to fire stations so kids and adults with autism could meet firefighters.

The Hills & Dales staff hoped the visit would help the kids and adults become more comfortable and educated about times of emergency, as well as give the first responders a chance to understand people who have autism.

At the fire headquarters, everyone gathered to watch firefighter Adam Feyen's presentation.

"Any chance we get to interact with autistic kids is great because it’s a chance for us to see how they interact with us and it gives us a better understanding of how to take care of them if we do need to help them in an emergency situation," Feyen said.

He explained how his job mostly consists of responding to medical calls, and then let everyone touch and look at some medical equipment up close.

With the help of another firefighter, Feyen also explained all of the layers they have to wear when responding to an emergency.

Hills & Dales Director of Autism Services Laura Keehner says all of this visual explanation will help their clients and residents.

"It was exactly what we had wanted for them to see and feel safe and be able to understand what those first responders can do for us," she said.

Keehner says people with autism don't always respond to verbal cues, and that's why visual explanation like this is so helpful.

She explained, "in those crisis situations, they tend to respond better if they know the person and are familiar, and also have some visual support to be able to understand what it is that a person is asking of them."

Keehner wants to ensure visual support is there for people with autism whenever they meet a first responder, so that's why she put together autism support tool kits for each fire truck.

Inside of each kit are some sensory toys, as well as cards that explain how people with autism communicate differently.

Keehner says these tools could really help a situation, "so that those individuals then aren’t heightened by trying to understand too many verbal messages and then everybody in the end is safe and cared for."

Feyen thinks the kits will be helpful.

"Those tools can really benefit us," he said. "It gives us a chance to possibly give them a better assessment, or give us a better assessment and help them medically if they do have a medical emergency."

Firefighters, kids and adults alike enjoyed the day and learned something from each other.

Feyen said, "we’re put in so many different situations so this is just good for us to get some experience with them."