SIRENS OF SILENCE
According to the Center for Disease Control, one in 54 children (2020) is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
For some children with ASD, lights and sirens become sensory overload and overwhelming. Individuals with ASD are each unique and have a range of challenges, including communication and social skills. Some may be limited in verbal communication or nonverbal which accounts for nearly one-third of people with autism.
Nearly half of those with autism also wander or bolt from safety. Seeing a fully suited first responder or stranger can also provide a sense of uneasiness.
To help familiarize and expose individuals with ASD to first responders, the Los Angeles County Fire Department’s (LACoFD) Sirens of Silence program will work with local organizations, so children with ASD and their parents/caregivers can meet firefighters and lifeguards and see/touch the equipment and apparatus in a quiet, less stimulating setting.
Supported by the LA County Fire Foundation, the Sirens of Silence program consists of three components:
1) education and awareness for the Department’s first responders through a mandatory training module as well as access to visual aids and informational materials (available below) with advice and practical tips on how to approach, respond, and communicate
2) special needs-friendly events for residents to meet and interact with first responders in a welcoming and sensory-sensitive space
3) safety-related items (i.e., seatbelt covers, sensory toys, etc.) for special needs patients.
“Our firefighters and lifeguards interact with special needs families every day and we want to make sure we are doing everything we can to provide the best care possible,” said Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby. “As first responders and community helpers, we are here to protect and provide thoughtful service to everyone in our care – and this program helps us enhance our ability to do that.”
The lifeguard tower, created as a temporary art installation inspired by the Sirens of Silence program, was painted by Ocean Lifeguard Scott Snyder. On May 28, 2021, the tower was shown-off during a news conference on Mother’s Beach in Marina del Rey with Fourth District Supervisor Janice Hahn, Fire Chief Daryl L. Osby, Department of Beaches and Harbors Director Gary Jones, the Los Angeles County Fire Foundation, OL Scott Snyder, and Sirens of Silence creator, LACoFD Communications Manager Karen Zarsadiaz-Ige.
Program Materials and Resources
The Department’s picture board and visual schedule for the Sirens of Silence program, exclusively hand-drawn by Los Angeles-based artist Millie Velasco, are useful tools for not only special needs individuals but can also serve as means of communication with victims of trauma or violence (i.e., elder abuse, child abuse, sex trafficking victims, etc.); patients with medical conditions or challenges (i.e., stroke, dementia, etc.); and, non-English speakers.
Sirens of Silence is an opportunity for first responders and children with ASD and their parents/caregivers to learn from one another. This new program will continuously strengthen and evolve as we receive additional input from the ASD community.
Materials developed for the Department’s Sirens of Silence program are available for use by first responders, therapists, educators, parents, caregivers, and more.