The Dearborn Fire and Police Department has partnered with non-profit organization Downriver to provide first responders with special 911 Ready bags to treat people with autism involved in accidents or emergencies.
The 911 Ready Bag, along with a car window sticker and seatbelt cover, was introduced to the public at the Blue Hands United event on March 26.
Lisa Vilella is Executive Director and Founder of Woodhaven-based Mimi’s Mission.
Vilella has designed a bag containing essential items that allow first responders to react and control a situation involving an autistic person.
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects the nervous system with a wide range of symptoms. People with autism may have communication difficulties, difficulties with social interactions, obsessive interests and repetitive behaviors. Mental cognition or mental age relative to physical age may also be a factor.
In conjunction with the Dearborn Fire and Police Department, Mimi’s Mission provided 18 bags to the fire department and 40 bags to the police.
So far, the fire department has successfully used the bags three times.
Blue Hands United was hosting its annual Autism Awareness event in part to kick off April as Autism Awareness Month. It was the band’s first in-person event since the pandemic began.
Mona Alaouie, co-founder of Blue Hands United, said the Dearborn-based nonprofit acts as “the go-between for parents and families and the resources they need.”
Alouie was excited to promote the new tools and services available to the Dearborn Police and Fire Department.
They implement “an amazing new protocol with intervention and training” to deal with de-escalation situations when called upon, Alaouie said.
A first responder coming to the scene can provide the 911 Ready Bag to the person in which they will find the things they want or need to calm down in a stressful situation.
Each bag contains noise canceling headphones, a weighted blanket, center boards, fidget toys, snacks, squishy toys, a water bottle, and other essentials. After the bag is “deployed”, it is left with the person or their parent or guardian.
Dearborn Police Corporal. Brent King has taken on the responsibility of training his fellow officers on how to properly respond to autistic people in crisis or assist family members who need help. It also shows how to properly deploy 911 Ready Bags.
“The basic principle of the bag is to soothe the autistic person,” King said. “The weighted blanket provides compression and comfort. There are a few fidget toys in there that are manipulatives that a child can play with.
Studies have shown that people with autism are very sensitive to noise and light. Earmuffs help mute sounds. In the event of an accident and officers responding with lights and sirens, this can help calm the individual.
The car window sticker tells a responding firefighter or police officer that a vehicle occupant has autism. The seat belt cover also provides similar information.
“It allows us to take a very negative, very stressful situation, to reduce the stress even more with the items in the bag so that the autistic person feels more comfortable and we can deal with them more appropriately. “said Jim Rodgers, firefighter and paramedic at the Outer Drive Fire Station. “Seatbelt covers are very important because when we or a police officer drives over a situation, like a car accident or something like that, we will see on the seat belt that it says that the person sitting in the chair can be autistic. So obviously it’s going to be a different situation, so we’ll know how to deal with that situation differently than how we might deal with someone else who’s hurt.
All first responders receive training on how to deploy the bags, as well as how to deal with people with autism in crisis situations, medical or vehicular emergencies or even with household issues.
“Firefighters, paramedics and police are trained in techniques they can use to defuse a high stress or tense situation,” Rodgers said.
The “Core Board” is unique to 911 Ready bags. Many people with autism are non-verbal, so first responders need a way to communicate and defuse the situation.
The board is a “non-speaking device” to help officers communicate with individuals. Each table contains 108 images that the agent can point to an image representing a word so that they can communicate with the autistic person.
Wayne RESA provided a grant for the signs which are the same used in all Dearborn public schools.
“It’s a great way to give the non-verbal community a way to talk to first responders to help us understand what they’re going through,” King said.
Using the chart allows the officer to understand the mental state of the person they are communicating with and better assess the situation or calm the person down and let them know that in a moment of crisis or emergency , what the agent will do and that everything will be fine.
Another service implemented is Dearborn’s 911 Special Needs Registry, also known as the “Disability Registry”.
Through a 911 reporting program, parents and guardians of children with autism provide information and a photo to the 911 dispatch service so officers know the situation they are responding to.
The 911 dispatcher also has a series of questions they can ask to determine if someone involved in an emergency or situation at home has autism.
With the 911 Special Needs Registry, a person’s address, phone number, or even a name associated with the registry will appear in the 911 system and report the operator. A file will be automatically sent to the responding firefighters or agents.
The free program is constantly updated to reflect changes in symptoms or even address changes.
Rodgers said “all front line ambulances, trucks and ladders in the Dearborn community will have these bags.” Eventually, all police vehicles will be equipped with 911 Ready bags.
Valella said Mimi’s mission is also “working with the Detroit Pistons to co-brand the bags and take them to Detroit” for use by the Detroit Fire and Police Department.