Capt. Rusty Myers knows the joys and challenges of helping someone with special needs. He raised an autistic son, Josh, who became an Eagle Scout and Special Olympics star.
So Myers was well-suited Monday to lead a group of Rock Hill firefighters in a training session for calls involving the physically and intellectually impaired.
Myers recruited his son to share a few pointers.
"They see firemen or policemen come in with the badges, and they think they're in trouble," Capt. Myers said. "They don't process information quite as quickly as we do."
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Firefighters strapped Josh to a back brace for an exercise in which he played a car accident victim. To add to the challenge, Josh pretended he was upset as crews treated his injuries.
"A book couldn't teach you this," said firefighter Mickey Stephens.
With firefighters now first responders to medical calls, the need for patience and simple dialogue is crucial, said Terry Hagen, recreation leader with Rock Hill Parks, Recreation & Tourism, which helped put on the exercise.
Emergency crews sometimes assume special needs adults are drunk or on drugs, Hagen said. Rock Hill and other cities are making major advances with better training and awareness.
Among the tips: Check pockets for a cell phone and use it to contact a caregiver. Look for a name written on the tag of a shirt.
To erase the term "mentally retarded" from accepted language, advocates encourage intellectually impaired as a preferable phrase.
"There are so many people who are disabled and live at home now," Hagen said. "They're not put away in institutions."
Kristin LaBarge brought in Jewell, a seeing-eye dog that senses low blood sugar by the way LaBarge holds the leash. Jewell gives an alert when it's time for LaBarge to take seizure medication.
The special needs adults are part of First Thursday Club, a group that hosts parties, dances and fashion shows. It's not about sympathy or special consideration, Hagen said.
"They don't want to be pitied. They want to be treated just like someone else."