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.

Rebecca Blankenship with the ACASG said that the course can be counted towards the continuing education required in each of the respective departments. The course, titled Austism Safety 101, is taught by Bart Barta who Blankenship said was recommended to her by Grand Prairie Police Department.

“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.

Brandon Kelley, the school resource officer at Crossett Middle School, 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 all over 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.

According to Blankenship, the training will be the first of its kind in South Arkansas and Blankenship said they have reached out to neighboring communities such as Morehouse Parish, Drew County and Union County to invite them to join as well.

Blankenship said they are 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. until noon at 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

“My hope is that this will open the eyes fully to the Autism community here in Ashley County and surrounding counties,” Blankenship said. “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.”

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