New bushfire resources for first responders to help autistic people an – Ausnew Home Care

New bushfire resources for first responders to help autistic people and those living with disability

Autism disability Disability Employment Services moderate autism NDIS

For autistic man Haydn Payne, the panic and terror of last summer's bushfires is still raw.

He was in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, to support an autistic friend through the crisis when he realised something.

He wasn't coping either.

"The fires start tearing through, sirens blazing, there's smoke in the air and I'm in a complete state of sensory overload," the 33-year-old said.

"I'd lived through bushfires before and they were quite bad but this was something else."

In emergency situations, autistic people can become disoriented because of loud noises and unfamiliar smells and sights.

These feelings can trigger flight, fight or freeze reactions.

Haydn said at that moment he realised he did not have all the usual equipment he would normally use to manage the situation, like his noise-cancelling headphones or a squishy ball to keep calm.

A man looking pensive in a field wearing noise cancelling headphones
Haydn said he uses the noise-cancelling headphones to remain calm.(

ABC News: Brendan Esposito


"I just had to put my fingers in my ears and try and work through a couple of breathing exercises," he said.

"That helped me get into a better frame of mind so I could think about the situation rationally but it wasn't easy [there] was so much happening at the time."

Haydn, who has his own business mentoring and designing training programs to support autistic people, is now using his experience for good.

He has featured in a video produced by advocacy organisation Next Step and Resilience NSW to teach first responders how to help the autistic community navigate emergencies.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Duration: 4 minutes 49 seconds
Play Video. Duration: 4 minutes 49 seconds
Teaching first responders to help autistic people navigate emergencies

Project manager Berinda Karp created the resource.

She believed it would save lives.

"It's going to save time with responders if they can identify somebody's needs quicker, they can then deal with the person in a more appropriate manner, in a manner that suits them," she said.

"They may walk a bit differently and they may not respond as quickly to instruction because they're processing it with all the sensory things going on."

Haydn with a friend in a paddock
Haydn has his own business after being mentored by Berinda Karp from Next Step.(

ABC News: Brendan Esposito


Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons from Resilience NSW — the state's newly founded lead disaster management agency — said the training would be rolled out to tens of thousands of first responders.

"They're the little things that can make all the difference to someone's anxiety, to someone's decision making, and ultimately has the potential to determine whether people live or don't live in really traumatic or horrific experiences," he said.

Ahead of the upcoming bushfire season, Victoria's emergency services are also implementing new procedures with councils, government agencies and advocates to help identify vulnerable people in the community.

Wiseleigh couple Mark and Jane Oakley are part of a campaign by the Country Fire Authority (CFA).

Mark and jane outside their temporary home
Mark and Jane outside their temporary home.(

ABC News: Patrick Stone


They've been living in a caravan and a shipping container after their home of 28 years outside of Bairnsdale, in East Gippsland, was burnt to the ground on December 30.

"It's really important for people who are in a similar situation to me to realise that it's OK just to pack up and leave," Mr Oakley said. "Rather than stay and maybe die."

The 62-year-old has fibromyalgia — generalised pain and muscle stiffness — and other health complications that impact his mobility.

"My capability of doing anything for more than half an hour is very low," he said.

The couple has appeared in a video to encourage people like themselves to leave early.

YOUTUBEMark and Jane's experience with bushfires

Jane Oakley said she needed to be one step ahead of her husband.

"When you're the main carer and you have to look after yourself and you have to look after somebody else as well, you're thinking for two people," she said.

The CFA has also developed an online program for vulnerable people and their families.

CFA deputy chief officer for the south-east region Trevor Owen said while the recommendation was to leave early, people with disabilities also had to plan for the scenario of being unable to leave their home.

"[They have to] understand the fire risk, how they can prepare their property and how they can prepare a bushfire plan so that in the event they are stuck at home and they can't leave, they know what to do," he said.

Bushfire Disability Advocate Dee Harry said the needs of people with disabilities must be included when setting up relief centres.

"Our mission is to give people with disability a voice so they don't remain invisible in the community," she said.

Ms Oakley said because they decided to leave early, they had a less traumatic experience of the bushfires.

Jane Oakley said she needed to be one step ahead of her husband.
Jane Oakley said she needed to be one step ahead of her husband.(

ABC News: Patrick Stone


"You don't have flames licking the back of your car while you're driving out, you haven't got that thick smoke that you can't see through," she said.

"Because we didn't have any of that you don't have a really bad memory."

The Oakley's never considered moving from their property after the bushfire.

They are now waiting for planning approval to build a new home.


Source: ABC

Older Post Newer Post