Essex County Fire and Rescue Service


Emergency service staff become autism aware

Staff from Essex County Fire and Rescue Service, Essex Police and the East of England Ambulance Service took part in an ‘autism reality sensory experience’ at Basildon Fire Station last week.

Firefighters, police officers and paramedics tried out state-of-the-art innovation sensory buses, which provided a simulated environment using the latest technology. The experience simulated what it feels like to have your senses overloaded and what life could be like living with autism.

The awareness day was the first of its kind for the emergency services in the country, following a request from a mother and her son – Dawn and Aston Avery.

Aston, 27, who has autism and previously faced some life challenges involving the emergency services. The day aimed to raise awareness of what emergency teams can do to support people with autism.     

The event was jointly organised by Aston Avery and his parents Dawn and Keith, the Anna Kennedy online charity, and was sponsored by Bowers Football Club.

Basildon Fire Station Manager Daron Driscoll said:

“It was extremely pleasing to see a total of 97 emergency service staff take part in experiencing the daily challenges that autism brings to individuals. It was also great to receive a visit from the Mayor and Deputy Mayor of Basildon who also took part.

“Not only do I feel privileged to have been in a position to meet Aston and his family and support this extremely worthwhile event, I was overwhelmed with the positive response throughout the day from all those who attended this pilot.

Daron added: “We are hoping to offer the experience to all emergency service staff and we have already begun to plan next steps. Thanks to everyone who attended and for all your support”

Inspector Steve Parry, from Essex Police’s Basildon Community Policing team, said:

“As officers, we serve the community, and we are always trying to understand more effective ways to engage with members of the public, especially those who are vulnerable and need our assistance. In March, I received contact from Dawn and over the last few months have worked with her, Anna Kennedy OBE, Essex County Fire and Rescue Service and all others that make up ‘Team Avery’.
“This autism awareness day has been a real labor of love for Dawn and the rest of Team Avery, and we are so grateful for the passion they have towards educating our local emergency services. While today was challenging and emotional in some parts, our officers have come away with invaluable insight.”
“I am looking forward to working with team in future projects.”

East of England Ambulance Service’s Duty Operations Manager Penny Bootle said:

“The subject is very close to my heart, as my five-year-old son has autism (non-verbal) as a result of a rare chromosome deletion, which is so rare he is the only known case.

“The interactive bus experience was a real eye opener; trying to complete simple activities was near on impossible when overloaded with so much sensory input.

“I will now use this experience to adapt my approach when dealing with individuals on the autism spectrum or anyone who experiences sensory processing disorders.”


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