Skyler Phillips, EMT paramedic and Captain of the Chattanooga Fire Department in Tennessee, created the Special Needs Awareness Program (SNAP) for local first responders. WRCB reported that Phillips, who has a son, Noah, on the autism spectrum, believed emergency first responders needed to surpass the basic training they receive concerning how to interact with an individual with special needs. Noah’s diagnosis changed Phillips entire perspective on interacting with individuals affected by autism or with any special needs, especially in an emergency situation. Phillips shared in an interview with WRCB that he, “realized that there was more he needed to know as a first responder and that there was more that others would need to know as well.”

With the help of LifeLine Ministries, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping individuals with all disabilities, Philips developed a list of objectives for the program. Some of these objectives include: understanding challenges faced by families and how that impacts their interaction with first responders, understanding potential responses of someone overwhelmed by sensory stimulation, understanding potential triggers for someone in an emergent situation and ways to reduce those triggers, and understanding considerations for verbal exchanges and interactions with the person with disability. LifeLine noted on their website, the goal of SNAP is, “To equip police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical services to respond with the greatest level of support and dignity when they encounter an opportunity to serve someone living with a disability.”

In addition to training first responders, SNAP is committed to teaching families how to prepare for possible emergency situations and interactions with emergency personnel. The possible emergencies range from community catastrophes to personal emergencies at home or in the car.

SNAP training is offered to first responders in a two or four hour period, with more than thirty different diagnoses represented within the training curriculum. Phillip’s has hopes of expanding the training to all first responders in his immediate area within the next two or three years and family training will take place over the next several months.

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