CLEARCREEK TOWNSHIP FIRE DEPARTMENT firefighter and paramedic Eric Henry is shown with a sensory kit for medic units. After coming across the program online, local educators Becky Solomon and Trisha Klausing decided to bring the program to Findlay. They have already raised enough money to outfit all city police cars and firetrucks with sensory bags designed to help soothe autistic individuals during an emergency. (Photo provided)

By BRENNA GRITEMAN

LIFE EDITOR

Watching one’s house burn down or being involved in a car accident can be overwhelming for anyone, but for individuals with autism, the presence of first responders, the flashing red-and-blue lights and the overall hecticness of the scene can be downright terrifying.

With this in mind, members of the Findlay City Schools Autism Team are working to outfit every police cruiser and fire truck in the city with carefully curated sensory boxes designed to provide a sense of familiarity and comfort.

And, based on initial public support, it seems they will easily meet this goal — and may even be able to expand the program into the county and townships.

Becky Solomon, a second-grade teacher at Jacobs Primary School and a member of the autism team, said she got the idea after seeing a similar program launched by a fire department near Cincinnati. She approached the police department to ask what would be practical given space limitations, then met with the fire chief. To her delight, a firefighter had recently pitched a similar idea to the chief.

“I think a couple of us had the same idea,” Solomon said. “I have been surprised at how well the pieces have come together.”

“They were enthusiastically on board,” agreed Trisha Klausing, an occupational therapist within the school system’s autism team, regarding the police and fire departments.

Solomon and Klausing learned that they would need 35 sensory boxes to outfit every police and fire vehicle in the city, at a cost of about $35 per box. Boxes will include various sensory items such as a squishy toy to provide deep pressure therapy; fidget toys; a weighted blanket to provide a sense of security; and a whiteboard and picture books allowing nonverbal individuals to effectively communicate their concerns.

Klausing said she and Solomon will personally purchase and package the items, taking special care to include items they know their students are familiar with.

After putting out a call for donations on social media, the team quickly had 35 pledges needed to supply the city vehicles. Many came from parents and families with autistic children and local businesses wishing to lend their support.

Solomon said some parents have also reached out to express their thanks for such a thoughtful undertaking. “We’ve gotten some really sweet thank yous.”

The school system’s autism team includes occupational therapists, teachers and speech therapists, all committed to bringing awareness and resources to school personnel. Klausing said there are many students at Findlay City Schools who are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, including a separated preschool classroom with seven autistic students.

“It really does affect our community,” she said. “There’s a great need for support and understanding.”

Solomon said the team hopes to have the boxes packaged within a month, and will provide sensory training to police officers during the department’s spring professional development sessions. Firefighters will receive similar training over the course of about six different sessions.

Anyone wishing to get involved with the project or make a donation can email Klausing at tklausing@fcs.org or Solomon at bsolomon@fcs.org.

brennagriteman@thecourier.com

Twitter: @BrennaGriteman

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