98 The Beach

98 The Beach

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Group Makes Kits For Autistic People In Emergencies

Grey Bruce | by Claire McCormack  

Grey Bruce group giving out kits & training first responders on how to interact with Autistic people.

Image courtesy of Stephanie Serenko  

A local group is distributing kits around Grey Bruce that are meant to help people with autism when they're in emergency situations.

Local non-profit, Families For Autism member Stephanie Serenko says the kits have tools that help those with Autism communicate with first responders and help them cope around an emergency situation.

They include noise-cancelling earphones, sunglasses, sensory toys, chew toys,  weighted blankets and communication devices, "A lot of, especially children with ASD (Autism spectrum disorder) are non-verbal, so being able to communicate with them and being able to point at certain pictures or an ipad for instance, that shows what's going on,"

Serenko says if the child is hurt, they can explain that to the first responder using the pictures in the kit, "Touch the picture of the head, touch the picture of the stomach, the leg, the arm, they can let the first responder know what is hurting when they can't express it by words."

Serenko says the idea for the kits came from a friend who is doing the same thing in Barrie.

She tells the story of a friend's son who has been diagnosed with ASD, and who has run away twice.
Serenko says the police and firefighters involved in finding him were at a loss for how to interact with the boy, "They didn't know what was wrong with him, how to react to him, or what he needed. As soon as the mom showed up and she had the sensory things with her, he just calmed completely right down."

Now, Serenko says they're making kits for fire stations in Grey Bruce and recently trained firefighters in Meaford, who told her most of them were unaware of how to recognize Autism beforehand.

Their hour-long session included explaining the uses for the items in the kits, explanatory slide shows and videos and teaching about how a child who is Autistic might react to an emergency situation.

"They can just be so overwhelmed by the littlest things, even just the lights on the ambulances and fire trucks and police cars," says Serenko.

Serenko says Families for Autism is a new group, "We started this because we saw the need for Autism services in our area."

It held its inaugural Autism Awareness golf tournament last summer at Sauble Golf and Country Club where they raised over $15,000 which was used to launch the group and to build kits.

She says they also held local training classes for parents, teachers, educational assistants and daycare centres. "We've also brought sensory friendly events to the area and gave all the local schools, and daycares and libraries weighted stuffed animals and blankets." Serenko explains  "Autistic children and adults really like pressure and weight."

She says her group plans to partner back up with the Meaford Fire department for more events including a day where people with Autism can visit the station, see the the rucks with their lights on and become familiar with

Serenko says right now, they have about 25 kits made. They plan to start with the fire stations which are asking for two or three kits for their various trucks, and hopefully one day move on to giving kits to police as well. She says each Kit has about $250 worth of items in it.

You can learn more at www.familiesforautism.ca



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