Blue Line

Features Editor’s Commentary
Search and Rescue for Autism: new training for 2020

October 8, 2020  By Renée Francoeur

Just like that it’s October and you know what that means — time for our annual Education and Training Directory (find it on page 14 of our October issue). Education as a whole has a new look in the world today. At the time of writing this, it now encompasses masks, spaced seating, face shields and more virtual classroom experiences than ever before thanks to the wide effects of 2020’s monopolizing headliner: COVID-19.

In law enforcement, education and training is also pivoting; it seems the pandemic has provided the necessary pause and subsequent impetus to deep dive into some of the learning gaps and work innovatively to close them. For example, this summer, I was fortunate enough to connect with Assistant Commissioner Serge Côté, the executive director of the Canadian Police College (CPC), and Supt. Doug Ross, director of the School of Police Sciences with CPC. As the guests for the August episode of Blue Line, The Podcast, the duo joined me to discuss the CPC’s modernization efforts and leadership development as well as what the future might hold in terms of eLearning and more CPC partnerships.

“When we interviewed police chiefs, we heard them loud and clear — they’d like to have leadership training delivered in their home communities,” Côté says in the episode. “So, we are looking at expanding the senior police administration course… We’re also at the early stages of exploring what I will refer to as a coalition of leadership development training programs.”

It’s an exciting time at CPC as instructors redesign traditional courses and the college moves forward to fully implement its adjunct faculty program, recognizing police services who are contributing to the college through subject matter experts. Stay tuned as I plan to check back in with CPC next month.


I am also thrilled to spread the word about the just-launched SARA (Search and Rescue for Autism) program. This features Autism Canada’s proprietary training materials and resources for Search and Rescue, first responders, emergency personnel and the community at large. It is led by Shanyn Silinski, a former volunteer fire captain and training officer in Alberta, who I touched based with at the end of August.

“Autism and neurodiversity are so complex,” she told me. “We’re learning all the time… but the saddest thing is our knowledge isn’t transferring to the frontline…”

Back in 2017, an Ontario-based study found about one in six people with autism had at least one interaction with police over an 18-month period. “And while criminal charges were laid in only two incidents involving study participants, police intervention was reported to increase distress in about one third of the cases,” reported The Canadian Press. Additionally, according to research at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, people with disabilities, including those on the autism spectrum, are five times more likely to be incarcerated than people in the general population.

SARA aims to ensure better outcomes in emergency situations. It provides the training for a technical response to incidents involving those on the spectrum — to recognize behaviour and sensory supports.

For example, Silinski shared how many on the frontline are not aware that some of those on the spectrum will not make direct eye contact.

“Not being able to ask for help in a neurotypical way — it’s terrifying,” she said. “When they’re having a bad day, it’s so easy to misunderstand and so easy for people to assume things like, ‘Oh, I’ve seen a bad drug trip, etc., so that’s what this must be.’ If someone is having a meltdown, they’re not giving you a hard time but having a hard time; restraining them is not going to help. Space and asking the right questions can make a difference… it can save lives.”

You can learn more by visiting and sign up to attend the virtual Launch and Learn on Oct. 24. I know I plan to so I myself can better respond to the asynchronous learners in my life.

ICYMI: Find Côté and Ross’s full conversation at or wherever you get your podcasts by searching for Annex Business Media: Podcasts.


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