National focus groups help identify the needs of first responders

In 2020, ALERRT project partners conducted national focus groups in their partner countries to identify the skills and competences needed for VET trainers to teach first responders that interact with autistic people while at work.

The focus groups involved VET trainers and First responders from Spain, Italy, Belgium, Cyprus, Czech Republic and Portugal who received a survey to fill in about their experiences and knowledge. There were 30 survey participants in total including 12 VET trainers, and 18 First responders (medical emergency staff, police officers, firefighters).

The focus groups revealed that 60% of participants feel that they don’t have enough general information on autism, and the grand majority can’t describe the prevalence of autism, even though they already have or may at some point, encounter an autistic person while working.

The majority of participants agreed that in their field of work, it is important to understand the communication characteristics of someone with autism and identify examples of common social behaviours they might display.

When interacting with an autistic person, respondents felt that they should know common behaviours and characteristics of autism spectrum disorder. However, the survey revealed that most participants lack certainty in providing specific examples of how these behaviors and characteristics might influence their interactions with autistic people in a work setting.

Since first responders often deal with emergency situations, the participants placed high importance on knowing strategies to avoid worsening a situation when working with an autistic person. They also felt that it was important to be able to identify unusual social behaviour that might arise and influence the interactions between them and an autistic person.

About 90% of respondents agreed with the statement “A training for persons working as first responders should include specific strategies and techniques to consider when encountering a person who may be autistic.”

The participants commonly agreed that a training for first responders interacting with autistic people should include tips and structured information for helping support them. Additionally, they would like to know more about the issues and difficulties faced by people with autism in stressful situations, in order to respond effectively.

The next step of the project is to develop the training for VET trainers and first responders based on the needs that have been identified.