The Courage to teach from the heart

Captain Bill Cannata of the Westwood Massachusetts Fire Department could be considered courageous simply because of the job he does day-in and day-out keeping his community safe.  But, as the father of an autistic son, Bill saw the need to train other first responders on how to recognize and help autistic children during a crisis, and then he did something to fill that need.

In a job where every second counts, Bill started “ALEC” – Autism and Law Enforcement Education Coalition. The training program provides police, fire, and EMTs with practical approaches to help get autistic children to safety during difficult situations.

Watch this wonderful interview with  Bill Cannata on the TODAY show:


“Since its founding in 2003, ALEC has trained more than 20,000 first responders in New England and New York and expanded to eight other states.

The center’s training demonstrates how to diffuse panic, ask the right questions, and, especially, know what not to do in those tense situations, Cannata said. “For example, running and pinning someone down is a bad idea,’’ he said.

Rather, if firefighters have to act quickly, they can take a person with autism to a less frantic spot, or wrap them in a blanket to calm them.

“Give them space, geographic containment, and time,’’ he said.

Flashing police lights, the sound of sirens, acrid smoke, and strangers in their homes all add up to sensory overload for children and adults with autism, who might hide, try to bolt from the scene, or even attempt to run back into a burning home, Cannata said.

Cannata and the center’s director, Betsy Roche, said they are amazed at the calls of thanks from first responders who have put their new knowledge into practice, often shortly after completing the ALEC course.”


Because he is the father of an autistic son, Bill Cannata knows the dangers that exist for those with autism when their world changes from predictable to chaotic. And he has the courage to dedicate his energy to ensuring as many of his fellow rescuers understand how to best restore a since of calm and order to a very frightening situation.  I am thankful for Bill’s courage to make a difference, and for all of those helping with the ALEC training!

ALEC web site:

ALEC Facebook page:

This entry was posted in Making a Difference, News of Courage and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Courage to teach from the heart

  1. Linda B says:

    How awesome!

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