Autism training begins in St. Lucie County

A Treasure Coast firefighter is trying to raise awareness about autism just in the community, but with first responders.


He has a son with autism and knows people with the disorder react differently in an emergency.


When first responders get a call for help, they leave the station not knowing what they'll find or who needs help.


Every chance he gets, Pete Villasuso talks to people about autism.


"I'm proud of my son," says Villasuso, "I love my son and he's autistic and he's always going to be autistic. So we're just hoping to raise awareness."


His 6-year-old son Ethan was diagnosed with autism in 2012.  Villasuso knows that people with autism react differently than others. They can have trouble communicating, may not like to be touched or make eye contact with people. 


"He just does not comprehend danger," says Villasuso, "He'll walk out in front of traffic."


Villasuso is also a firefighter. He says first responders need to know how to recognize and communicate with people who have autism when there's an emergency. That's why the St. Lucie County Fire District began training first responders about autism. It began this week. 


About 400 first responders and administrators will have the training.  


Capt. David French says firefighters have learned a lot from the hour-long session especially when it comes to behavior.


"They don't have any fear of heights," says Capt. French, "They're very attracted to water. Many of these kids have died going back in homes that were on fire."


The St. Lucie County Fire District has new stickers that people can put on their windows or the front door. It reads "Autism Alert" to notify first responders that someone in the house has autism.  


April is Autism Awareness Month.  Villasuso says firefighters will be wearing shirts with autism's puzzle piece logo to promote awareness.  


The Treasure Coast Community Walk for Autism Speaks is April 12 in Tradition.  

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