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May 14, 2019

Awareness and Education: ALEC in the Community

Westwood Special Education Parent Advisory Comm.
Westwood Special Education Parent Advisory Comm.

ALEC 2019: Providing Awareness and Education within Massachusetts' Communities

Since 2004, ALEC has been delivering trainings to First Responders in Massachusetts and throughout the country. ALEC has trained a total of 43,523 First Responders since its inception. ALEC has several training modules that are used with various target audiences including police, fire, EMS, medical staff, judiciary, and parents. Each module is tailored to the profession being trained with an emphasis on what ASD is, the best approaches for interventions during a crisis situation, and how to deescalate the severity of a situation involving a person with ASD relative to the laws and regulations surrounding the profession being trained. The personal and professional connection that our First Responders have gives the program instant credibility because it addresses the professional guidelines of the field being trained as well as the personal perspective of ASD. The ALEC Team ensures that the program stays current with best practices by reviewing the curriculum on an annual basis. Modifications are made in regards to statistics and research findings relative to ASD, as well as changes in the law.

 Trainings include a PowerPoint presentation, videos and photos of individuals with ASD, visual and auditory examples of communication styles of people with ASD. The program uses real life examples of interactions between First Responders and people with ASD that were not handled appropriately. ALEC equips First Responders attending the training session with communication boards that include Mayer Johnson Picture Exchange Communication Symbols (PECS) to use in crisis situations. During the training, presenters review various methods of communication a person with ASD may use. Instructors give hands-on intervention strategies that are relevant to the audience being trained. For example, in the ALEC Police curriculum: Dispatch reports to the responding officer- “Male teen wandering outside appears under the influence of a substance. The teen is unable to speak and exhibits strange behavior.” The ALEC instructor points out that it is important to take three key things from this call- the person is non-verbal, appears to be under the influence of a substance, and is wandering. Non-verbal: Since the teen can’t speak, officers should look for other clues. Could there be a disability? Substance: It is very common for a person with ASD to be mistaken for someone who is exhibiting drug-induced behavior. Scripting may be confused with hallucinating, as may body language (stimming, flapping, rocking). Wandering: Many individuals with ASD wander; it might even be the call you get most often. Check for attractive hazards (water- pools, lakes, rivers, etc., construction sites and drainage areas). What can the First Responder do? Look for clues that the individual may have a disability; take the extra second to evaluate; attempt to establish communication, but exercise great patience; if possible, do not attempt to place “hands on”; allow stimming.   These strategies always keep in mind the laws, regulations, legal obligations and safety of the First Responder. The ALEC team has developed an online course for the MPTC (Municipal Police Training Committee) and “roll call” training, where Police Training Officers can use the video and a questionnaire for a basic overview of ASD and Police intervention strategies during their daily “roll call”. These tools have been useful for cities and towns that do not have funds to pay their officers to attend an ALEC training. These methods of delivery enable ALEC to train Police across the entire state who wouldn’t otherwise have the resources to send officers to training. The online module receives two times the traffic of other online training courses MPTC offers.

The ALEC program has established a relationship with The Office of Emergency Medical Services supports. The EMS component of ALEC. Basic EMTs, intermediate EMTs and paramedics earn 3 OEMS hours (continuing education hours) for attending an ALEC training.

The Parent component of ALEC is offered to caregivers and trains on effective communication with First Responders and the importance of disclosure and education for the individual with ASD. ALEC has a community education initiative called Community Days (CD’s). This CD component reaches the needs of the ASD Community through private open houses at local fire and police stations. These CD’s, held fire and police stations, are opportunities for individuals with ASD and their families to become accustomed to emergency personnel and equipment in a safe and informal environment. This is a private event for residents of the town or city who are diagnosed with ASD or related developmental disabilities. These events are less chaotic than the typical Open Houses fire departments host for the general community. They offer a more intimate setting for people with ASD and their families to meet local First Responders. ALEC representatives educate families about the importance of working with people with ASD regarding fire safety and give tools/techniques to use with them. ALEC has worked with the 7 state-funded Autism Support Centers and trained them on hosting CD’s in the towns and cities they serve. ALEC has given each of the 7 centers a “CD Tool Kit” to host their own CD’s. These kits include social stories for individuals with ASD, Mayer Johnson PECS, Biographical Information forms for families and caregivers to fill out for the individual with ASD, 911 disability indicator forms, and information on SafetyNet bracelets. ALEC has spearheaded an initiative with Boston Police, Fire and EMS to bring CD’s to the public schools supporting people with ASD. Through this initiative, Boston Fire, Police and EMS visit the schools to introduce the students to First Responders. First Responders and students get the opportunity to meet one another. The premise behind this program is to expose both people diagnosed with ASD and the First Responders to each other before a crisis situation. The events have been incredibly successful and are supported by The Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism.

 Funding from the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) has allowed us to train a total of 24,486 First Responders throughout Massachusetts.  ALEC also continues to provide community awareness days locally under support from the Changing Lives Fund (Northeast Arc in Massachusetts).  ALEC has hosted 347 trainings for Fire Departments, training 13,114 firefighters in 213 cities/towns within Massachusetts. ALEC has trained the major cities of Boston, Springfield, and Worcester Fire Departments. This number includes trainings at specialized locations including The Massachusetts Air National Guard FD, Massachusetts Fire Academy, Firefighters attending the Massachusetts Fire and Life Safety Conference, The Massachusetts Military Reservation, Massport and Westover Air Force Base.

 ALEC has hosted 221 trainings for Police Officers, training 9,607 Police Officers from the majority of cities and towns within Massachusetts. ALEC held larger Police Officer trainings for regional and specialized groups in the following locations: Berkshire County Regional Training, Bristol County Regional Training, Cape Cod Regional Training, Essex County Regional Training, MBTA Police Officers and Recruits, MPTC Police Officers and Recruits, Mass State Police Officers and Recruits, Metro Star Team (Regional SWAT Team), NEMLEC North East Mass Law Enforcement Council (Regional SWAT Team), Norfolk County Regional Police Training, Norfolk County Sheriffs Office, South Suburban Police Institute (Regional Reserve Police Officers), Western MASS Regional Training, Worcester County Regional Training.

 ALEC has trained 1,131 EMS providers from the following towns and EMS agencies/educational programs with 49 trainings: Adams, Boston, Chicopee, County Ambulance, Eascare, Emergency Nurses Association, Fallon Ambulance, Greater Boston EMS Association, Highland Ambulance, Hilltown, Hyannis, Lowell, Lynn, Malden, MASS National Guard, Metro West Framingham, Mattapoisett, Metro West Natick, Mount Wachusett, Natick, Nashoba Regional, Pittsfield, South County Ambulance, South Deerfield EMS, South Shore EMS, Springfield, UMASS Medical Life Flight, Ware, Webster EMS, Wood Ambulance, Worcester, Anna Maria College, Holyoke Community College, Lowell University, Quinsigamond Community College, Westfield State University, Berkshire, Lifeline Ambulance, South Shore Hospital EMS.

 The ALEC Program currently has 16 trainers who implement the program throughout the entirety of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.


Dec 17, 2018

ALEC Wins National Grant Award from Arc Tank 2.0

Autism Law Enforcement Education Coalition's Project Director Bill Cannata and Certified ALEC Trainer, Sgt. Ryan Roettger win Fan Favorite AND $40,000 grant from the Changing Lives Fund!  Cpt. Cannata and Sgt. Roettger presented to a full house at the JFK Memorial Library in Boston.  Their proposal was selected out of over 100 applications to present with six other organizations in a "Shark Tank" style pitch to a panel of judges. The audience was able to pick a "Fan Favorite" which was the ALEC project.  With a $40,000 award from the Changing Lives Fund, ALEC will implement a train the trainer model in New England and recruit additional certified ALEC trainers who have family members with autism and other intellectual/developmental disabilities. 

Here is the press release.  ALEC was among only three other awardees from all over the US:

Northeast Arc announced winners of the 2nd "The Arc Tank" competition created to positively disrupt conventional methods of providing services to persons with disabilities. Winners were selected by judges after hearing their pitches at an event held yesterday at John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, partner in the initiative.  Winning proposals received awards from the Changing Lives Fund established through a $1 milliondonation from Steven P. Rosenthal, founder of West Shore, LLC.

Winners: The Arc South of Norfolk's Autism Law Enforcement Education Coalition (ALEC), Westwood, Mass.; Stronger Communities through Open and Organized Transportation (SCOOT) by New Star, Chicago, Illinois; Virtual Reality Functional Communication Activities & Training Seminars by the Interactive Media Institute, San Diego, California.

ALEC was awarded $40,000 for its project, SCOOT was awarded $70,000 for its proposal, and the Virtual Reality Functional Communication Activities & Training Seminars was awarded $90,000 for its initiative. 

"The second year of the Arc Tank has shown that there are great ideas among innovative, outside-the-box creators who have joined our quest to positively disrupt the conventional methods of providing services to persons with disabilities," said Jo Ann Simons, CEO of Northeast Arc. "With Steven Rosenthal's vision and philanthropy, and now with another three proposals to be funded, we are well on our way to shaking up the status quo and will be making change happen for individuals with intellectual disabilities and autism."

Each of the 2018 Arc Tank 2.0 winners addresses a crucial challenge facing the disability community.

ALEC is a program that offers specialized training to first responders so they can more effectively interact with the disability community. First responders can access critical training from their peers who have personal and professional experience with individuals with intellectual disabilities. The goal is to provide additional tools to use in assessing the risk of a situation to promote safety and reduce risk of injury.

With its funding, SCOOT will develop a mobile app to provide ridesharing transportation for persons with disabilities. The project is unique because rideshare drivers will be Direct Support Professionals, allowing families to be comfortable that the driver transporting their loved ones understands the special needs of their riders.

Virtual Reality Functional Communication Activities & Training Seminars introduces innovative virtual reality technology to increase access to services promoting social integration and self-advocacy in children and adolescents with intellectual disabilities.  The virtual reality component allows parents or caregivers to better prepare an autistic child to cope with a trip through the airport, dinner at a restaurant, use of public transportation and other challenging first-time experiences.

Panel of judges:

  • Matthew Kennedy - Founder, Kennedy Merchant Partners
  • Ralph James, Entrepreneur, higher education administrator, philanthropist
  • Shirley Leung – Interim Editorial Page Editor, Columnist, Boston Globe
  • Quincy Miller – President, Eastern Bank
  • Matthew Millett – Security Officer II, Department of Youth Services, Commonwealth of Massachusetts
  • Marylou Sudders – Sec. Health & Human Services, Commonwealth of Massachusetts

Judges received support from David Chang, entrepreneur and active angel investor.


Arc Tank Winners and Judges
Arc Tank Winners and Judges
ArcTank Preso
ArcTank Preso


Sep 17, 2018

ALEC and University of New Haven Publish Report

Results from our Training Program Evaluation Report are in and are overwhelmingly positive!  This first report was conducted by the University of New Haven's Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences Center or Analytics.

If you are interested in receiving a summary of the report, please reach out to Susan Kagan at  The Arc of South Norfolk's Vice President Dan Sullivan and ALEC Director Bill Cannata will publish results of the evaluation in journals like the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders (JADD), National Institute of Justice Journal (NIJ), POLICE Magazine, The Arc US NCCJD and The Arc MA Advocate.  As we encourage community inclusion, community members and first responders need to have an awareness of and acceptance of people of all abilities.  Specific training on autism is essential to effectively serving everyone in the community and our goal is to raise awareness of the benefits of this type of training and that more law enforcement entities will engage in quality training on working with people with autism.  

People with autism are more likely to have 911 encounters than people in the general population.  ASD is a developmental disability characterized by problems with social communication; being inflexible with changes or routines; fixed interests; difficulty understanding and responding to social cues; and, over or undersensitivity to lights, sounds or touch. No two individuals are the same and people with ASD present with a wide range of strengths and challenges. ALEC's 18 instructors are all First Responders with direct knowledge of ASD through a family member.  The ALEC team consists of 8 police instructors, 7 fire/EMS instructors, 2 EMS instructors and 1 hospital instructor.  Training participants hear directly from a colleague with personal knowledge and an extraordinary personal investment in the program.

ALEC, helps to foster a deeper understanding of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) among public safety and law enforcement personnel.    Parent trainings are designed to teach people with ASD safety skills and to discuss with parents and caregivers ways they can connect with the 911 systems in the State.  ALEC training has taken place within statewide agences including the Munipcal Police Training Committee Academies, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority and the Massachusetts State Policy Academy.  

GlobalGiving gives the ALEC program the international stage to promote and encourage a deeper understanding of people all over the world with autism spectrum disorders.  Please share this report and the work of ALEC with advocates, self-advocates, law enforcement and First Responders all over the world to encourage a deeper awareness of autism spectrum disorders! We continue to fundraise to support this unique program.  We benefitted from the proceeds raised by a competitive runner who participated in the Boston Run to Remember which honors fallen first responders.  She ran and raised funds to support ALEC and her Uncle who was a first responder.  We encourage this kind of fundraising as it promotes autism awareness and acceptance within law enforcement.  Within the next quarter, we will be focusing on small fundraisers to support The Arc of South Norfolk and we have a team riding in the September 22nd, Rodman Ride for Kids in Massachusetts.

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