February 3, 2003
A few years after the birth of his son, Bill Davis became a staunch supporter of the rights of those afflicted with autism. Bill’s advocacy began sometime around his son’s third birthday. It was at that time that his son, Chris, began displaying autistic characteristics. Chris was soon diagnosed as having severe autism. That diagnosis radically altered the lives of Bill and his family.Autism is an increasingly common, yet generally misunderstood affliction. Today it is estimated that as many as 1 in 150 children will display some form of autistic characteristic. Considered a “spectrum” disorder, autism can present itself in many ways – mild to severe. Despite it’s frequency, the characteristics of autism are misinterpreted by those not specifically trained to recognize and deal with them.
This misunderstanding of autism has resulted in several tragic incidents involving the death or injury of autistic individuals at the hands of emergency responders.
Two excellent cinematic examples of autism can be seen in the movies Rainman with Dustin Hoffman and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape with Leonardo DiCaprio. In each of these movies the actors played the roles of individuals afflicted with autistic-like characteristics. Characteristics such as hand-flapping, body rocking, toe walking, robotic-like speech, and the need for absolute regimen are just a few of the dozens of behaviors displayed by individuals with autism.
Realizing that the general public, emergency responders, security personnel and retailers might overreact to Chris’ autistic tendencies, Bill began making presentations about autism to anyone who would listen. To Bill’s relief the presentations intrigued his audience. For many emergency responders this was the first time they had ever heard about the disorder, and they were keenly interested. Before long, Bill was educating emergency responders across the nation.
Bill’s passion for autism advocacy quickly started to get noticed. For his work with Police and the Disabled Bill received an honorary citation from the Pennsylvania Senate and was awarded the End the Victims Silence Advocacy Award. Soon afterwards Bill and his family were featured in the August, 2002 edition of Parent’s Magazine.
Bill’s message was simple, “Don’t hurt my child.” His presentation describes autism and its characteristics. It explains why emergency responders might be called to a scene involving an autistic person, what they might encounter, and how to communicate and interact with a person afflicted with autism.
In an effort to expand the reach of his message Bill recently released a 95-minute video titled Encountering Autism. Aimed at emergency responders (fire/police/ambulance), medical personnel, retailers and parents, Encountering Autism seeks to educate first-responders on many aspects of the affliction. Bill hopes that parents of autistic children will use the tapes to educate their local emergency responders about the complexities of autism.
The program is forthright and simple. In it Bill goes through all the major points that he stresses in his presentations. An excellent teaching tool for any parent interested in educating local emergency responders, information about Encountering Autism can be found at “http://www.DiscountLearning.com/autism/”.
Bill has also written two books on autism titled Breaking Autism’s Barriers: A Father’s Story and Dangerous Encounters – Avoiding Perilous Situations with Autism.