Timesherald.com: Autism Safety family day festival slated in Upper Merion

UPPER MERION >> You and your family are having lunch at a fast-food restaurant when you hear loud noises from a nearby table. Seated at the table is a young male, who is vigorously swaying back and forth and bobbing his head up and down while his mother attempts to calm him down.

For Eileen Council, this episode is personal — a regular occurrence when she and her 26-year-old autistic son, Justin, are out in public. “We have gotten stares and heard hushed comments from people when they observe Justin displaying this kind of behavior. The public isn’t fully educated as to what autism is all about,” stated Council, who is president of Justin Unlimited, a consulting agency that provides comprehensive service for individuals with autism.

On Saturday, Sept. 23, from 5 to 8 p.m., , the first Autism Safety Day Festival will be held in the back parking lot of the Upper Merion Township Municipal Building on West Valley Forge Road.

Justin Unlimited has partnered with Swedesburg Volunteer Fire Co. and invited all those families with children/adults with autism or any special needs to attend this special fire prevention event. Council, who lives in the Swedesburg fire district zone, reached out to the fire company because “they have a reputation for presenting excellent community outreach programs.”

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In some ways, the event is a counterpart to the annual Fire Prevention Week Expo which will be held again this year on the Henderson Square Shopping Center on Wednesday, Oct. 4.

“The Henderson Square event is open to the public. However,” said Melissa Guziewicz, who is one of five members of Swedesburg FC’s autism awareness fire prevention committee, “people who are autistic would not feel comfortable at this event because of the noise, flashing lights from the emergency vehicles and general commotion.”

The Sept. 23rd event, explained Guziewicz, “is more subdued and less traumatic.”

Council pointed out that “the purpose of this event, is also educational, but its primary thrust is to educate the public about autism, the behaviors that autistic persons exhibit, statistical data which consider the likelihood that a family member would be inflicted with this disorder.”

Moreover, she stressed, the event will “specifically zero in on emergency responders like police, firefighters and emergency service (EMS) personnel because they are the ones who are out in the community. It is especially beneficial for them to be educated on autistic behaviors so they will know how to approach afflicted individuals in an emergency situation,” said Council.

“Right now, emergency responders in the township are at a loss,” stated Guziewicz. “There is no list of autistic and special needs individuals in the township. The only one that we’re aware of is a person who lives on Dartmouth Drive and we only know of that person through our annual Santa Claus visit. Since we are aware of this person’s situation, we know now that, any time we are called to an emergency on Dartmouth Road, we shut off our sirens before approaching the road.”

At the municipal building event, Council and members of Swedesburg FC will distribute index cards to the attendees who will be encouraged to write down the names of individuals within their household who are autistic or require special needs, their address and the behaviors they exhibit. “It would be great to have this crucial background information,” said Guziewicz, “With it, all we would have to do is type up the information and enter it into our computer-aided dispatch system in our trucks.” Armed with this information, emergency responders will be better prepared to deal with those with autism when they arrive on the emergency scene. They will also know, in advance, that emergency sirens should be used judiciously

During the event, police, fire and emergency service personnel, along with their vehicles, will be on hand to greet the public, give lectures and tours of the vehicles. There will also be exhibits and demonstrations which are geared toward those with autism or other special needs.

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