CLERMONT COUNTY, Ohio — Goshen Township Fire and EMS is raising money to put autism sensory kits on every emergency response vehicle in Clermont County, filling what organizers describe as a long-overdue need.
Each kit costs about $40 to assemble, so the county is hoping to raise $4,000 to cover 100 fire and EMS vehicles. Organizer Travis Ellen, lieutenant of EMS training at Goshen Township Fire, said the kits will greatly help individuals on the autism spectrum during moments of crisis.
“I thought we were lacking in this area,” Ellen said. “I’ve made quite a few runs on children with autism or a parent who is ill who has an autistic child and you feel helpless, you feel like there’s nothing you can do, and that’s a terrible feeling. I can’t stand it.”
The kits will be packed with items meant to connect the user with their senses and provide a moment of calm. Items like fidget spinners, floam, headphones, a Rubik's Cube and more will be found in the box.
Mary Helen Richer, CEO of the Autism Society of Greater Cincinnati, said the sensory kits will benefit all children who are stressed during an emergency situation, but it will make the biggest difference with children on the autism spectrum who are especially sensitive to lights, sound and stress.
"Noise is often an issue for individuals with autism, and of course, fire trucks and police cars, they make really loud noises,” Richer said. “We like to have stuffed animals. I’m excited about weighted stuffed animals, because not only will you have a squishy something to hold, but a stuffed animal you can put around your neck or on your shoulder or in your lap that would have, not a ton of weight, but just a little bit to help you feel grounded.”
But just having the kits isn't enough. Ellen said his department and others in the county will need to undergo training from the Autism Society on how to identify when and how to introduce the kits to those in need.
“A lot of times, as firefighter or EMS, we are behind the eight ball because we have so much we have to be good at," Ellen said. "Our training actually doesn’t come through paramedic school, it doesn’t come through any of these things. It’s all going to come from the Autism Society. Which is a great thing.”
A large part of the training will center on communication. The kits will come with a pen and paper to help those who are non-verbal communicate with first responders. Widget boards that depict emotions and places on the body will help first responders know if a person has been hurt.
Richer said she trains first responders to slow down the conversation more than usual when helping people, especially children, who are on the autism spectrum.
“One of the things we train everyone is to wait 12 to 15 seconds when you ask a question. That’s a long time," Richer said. "You’re only making the situation worse by asking the same question again and again. Because rather than seeing you’re asking one question three ways, there’s a perception you’re asking three separate questions.”
Decreasing the amount of stress during a crisis situation can start long before a family experiences an emergency. Richer recommends departments set up meet-and-greet events where families can interact with uniformed police, fire and EMS in a neutral, stress-free environment.
“We also encourage families to use something called Smart 911," Richer said. “Not every department here in Cincinnati uses it, because it’s a bit of an investment, but it’s a really good tool for families to put all the relevant information into this system. If you call, it brings it up for the first responder so it can see that you have a 12-year-old with autism that’s in the back bedroom and who is afraid of loud noises.”
The Goshen Fire Department will be hosting a bowling tournament to fund the sensory kits on Wednesday, May 10, starting at 5 p.m. at Eastgate Lanes in Loveland. The tournament is open to the public and will have food, a silent auction and a live D.J.
Any money raised beyond their goal will go back to the Autism Society to help fund training for other county first responders.