SIRENS OF SILENCE
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in 36 children (2023) 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.
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.
On March 27, 2023, Fourth District County Supervisor Janice Hahn, Fire Chief Anthony C. Marrone, Department of Beaches and Harbors Director Gary Jones, Ocean Lifeguard/Artist Scott Snyder, and Sirens of Silence Creator/LACoFD Communications Manager Karen Zarsadiaz-Ige, kicked-off the painting of a permanent Sirens of Silence lifeguard tower that is dedicated to promoting autism and special needs awareness and inclusion. Throughout the week, autism and special needs individuals and their families, therapists, educators, advocates, and community groups volunteered their time and effort to hand-paint the tower’s colorful mural (designed by OL Scott Snyder) which represents a flurry of vibrant hearts that exemplifies an exuberance of joy, love, and kindness while embracing all abilities.
Thanks to the community’s help and a generous donation from the Behr Paint Company, the Sirens of Silence lifeguard tower’s permanent art installation was completed on April 2, 2023, which is celebrated as World Autism Awareness Day.
The Department is proud to partner with Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia for autism awareness and inclusion. Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia is a designated IBCCES Certified Autism Center. On September 24, 2021, team members from Fire Station 126 delivered boxes of sensory-sensitive and safety-related items from the Department’s Sirens of Silence program to supply to park visitors, if needed. Thank you to Six Flags for this impactful partnership!
The first Sirens of Silence community event with Fire Station 120 and Fire Fighter Specialist Michael Keeney at Pristine Rehab Care in Diamond Bar on September 24, 2021. Thank you to all those who participated in this inaugural event!
In May 2021, the first (and temporary) Sirens of Silence lifeguard tower was painted by Ocean Lifeguard Scott Snyder and unveiled during a news conference on Mother’s Beach (Marina del Rey) to celebrate the launch of the LACoFD’s autism and special needs awareness and inclusion program.
In November 2021, team members from Fire Station 51 delivered sensory-sensitive and safety-related items to Universal Studios Hollywood as part of a Sirens of Silence collaboration to promote autism and special needs awareness and inclusion. Thank you to Universal Studios Hollywood for this amazing support and partnership!
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.