Six years ago a Massachusetts fire captain began teaching first responders how to identify and deal with individuals with autism. Now, he’s taking the program national thanks to a federal grant.

Bill Cannata started the Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition in 2005 by working with groups in his Westwood, Mass. community.

Today, the organization has touched 17,000 emergency professionals in the Northeast and now with the help of a U.S. Department of Homeland Security grant will expand to 13 states as far west as Oklahoma.

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The training program — led exclusively by those with family members who have autism — coaches first responders to understand how stimuli like sirens or flashing lights could overwhelm an individual with the developmental disorder. Participants learn appropriate responses, such as guiding the person to a calm space and taking the time to listen.

Those who have gone through the two-hour training are appreciative. And many soon report back that they’ve had an opportunity to put their new skills to use, Cannata told The Boston Globe. To read more click here.