The Ashley County Autism Support Group is offering a free opportunity for local law enforcement, first responders, Emergency Medical Technicians, paramedics and fire fighters to attend an Autism safety training course.

“My hope is that this will open the eyes fully to the autism community here in Ashley County and surrounding counties,” said Rebecca Blankenship with ACASG. “The autism diagnosis statistics aren’t going down, they are quickly on the rise with each passing year and it’s critical now that we are aware and that we must act to provide the necessary treatments, trainings and resources.”

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder differ in their developmental abilities and approaches from those who are developmentally typical. How ASD affects each person is different, but often those on the autism spectrum have difficulty understanding how to communicate or interact with others.

Across the country, law enforcement and emergency response agencies are starting to seek training to recognize and properly respond to people people with autism.

Blankenship said that the course can be counted toward the continuing education required in each of the respective departments. Bart Barta, who Blankenship said was recommended to her by the Grand Prairie Police Department, teaches the course, titled Austism Safety 101.

“I came across an article on an autism social media site detailing specialized training done by Autism Safety 101 for the Grand Prairie Police Department, so I contacted an officer there,” Blankenship said.

The group had been bouncing the idea of hosting a training around because one of the members, Cindy MacDonald, had suggested that offering some type of training to the community might be a good idea.

“I asked Cindy if she thought it would be beneficial for our law enforcement and first responders, and it was a go from there,” Blankenship said.

Crossett Middle School School Resource Office Brandon Kelley is a member of ACASG, and Blankenship said she and Kelley set up a conference call with Barta to discuss what it would take to bring him to Crossett.

Following the conference call, Blankenship scheduled a lunch to get the opinions of law enforcement and fire fighters from across the county.

“We had a group of about 17, and everyone agreed that they could benefit from this training and were very excited to be a part of it,” Blankenship said.

After meeting with local law enforcement, Blankenship said they decided to move forward with booking Barta for the Autism Safety 101 course.

Blankenship said the training will be the first of its kind in South Arkansas. She said she has reached out to neighboring communities such as Morehouse Parish, Drew County and Union County to invite officers there to join as well.

Blankenship said the group is actively fundraising and accepting donations for the course so that they can offer it completely free of charge.

“This will definitely be the biggest undertaking of the group so far,” Blankenship said.

The course will be June 13 from 8 a.m. to noon at the First Baptist Church’s Multi Ministry Center in Crossett. There will be lunch available to purchase for $5 a plate. Those interested may register online at

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