Members of Mayfield and Graves County's emergency first responders are now even more prepared for traumatic situations if they happen to encounter someone with special needs.

Personnel with Mayfield police and fire departments, Graves County Sheriff's Office and jail recently took part in Yellow Dot program training which helps first responders learn how to recognize and de-escalate emergency situations that may involve a person with autism, dementia, Alzheimer's disease or some other special need.

Crystal Nadeau, MPD community relations officer, said the trainings, offered for free through the University of Louisville's Kentucky Autism Training Center, addressed autism, characteristics and how those with autism react in certain situations, as well as ways to interact and respond.

"Granted in our situation as first responders, we're there to treat emergency situations and trying to communicate with someone who has autism can be very challenging," she said. "You're not trying to frighten or harm that individual in any way. So you're able to identify this person has autism, this is how we can better treat the situation."

The Yellow Dot program uses a brochure or pamphlet in a person's vehicle glove box with specific information on a special needs individual, such as if an autistic child is non-verbal or if someone has a mental issue or certain medical condition. The information can list potential triggers, such as loud noises or flashing lights, so responders can better address such situations.

Nadeau said, for example, if someone is non-verbal, emergency responders have picture diagrams victims can point to and show if any part of their body is hurt or injured.

"It's specific, so it's not like you give them a whole flyer that has 10,000 pictures," she explained. "They can point to what hurts - their arm, their head, their neck - so you're not forcing them to talk if they don't want to talk.

"It's not foolproof," she added, " but it offers suggestions how to better communicate and de-escalate a situation."

A Yellow Dot sticker can be placed on the car window to also help first responders immediately assess the situation, as with a vehicle crash. Nadeau said personnel will check glove boxes for information on the vehicle and owner, and can also access additional personal or medical information from the Yellow Dot pamphlet.

The information can include medical conditions, recent surgeries, emergency contact information, medications, hospital preferences and allergies.

"It can be specialized for anyone with a medical condition or disability so first responders can better help that person," Nadeau said. "It can list communication styles, calming strategies, triggers, better ways to calm a situation so they can get the assistance they need so responders aren't waiting on a family member to get to the scene."

Nadeau said there have been incidents where first responders have encountered medical emergencies from car wrecks or other situations like house fires and have dealt with people who are on the autistic spectrum.

"It allows them to respond more effectively and build a more positive relationship so when a child or person sees that first responder the next time, they feel more positive because they recognize that person was there to help them," she said.

She added a goal would be to have such information inputted to a 911 system so dispatchers can relay that to emergency or law enforcement personnel.

The Mayfield Police Department and other departments have Yellow Dot brochures available to the public and officers also have them in their cruisers to share when they come in contact with a person who has been involved in an accident so they will have it for future reference.

Eric Walker is the news editor for The Mayfield Messenger. He has also worked as a staff writer for the Messenger, editor for the Murray Ledger & Times, and in public relations. He is married with two sons.