STREETSBORO, Ohio (WJW) – They look like gifts from Santa, but they are backed by research and the newest tools to help Streetsboro police better respond to emergencies.
The clear plastic backpacks contain multiple items designed to help officers better interact with children with autism or anyone with sensory issues.
“It’s definitely one more thing for us to put in our arsenal. When we show up, it’s usually for some type of traumatic event. A lot of times it’s a bad event,” said Lt. Richard Polivka.
He says getting the kits was the school resource officer’s idea and then approved by city council.
One for every police cruiser, donated by the Hussman Institute for Autism in Maryland with training, says Lt. Polivka.
“It really covers a range of issues dealing with children from communication all the way to calming them and maybe distracting them from a distressing situation,” he said.
Each first responders kit contains an ultra soft stuffed toy, plush pop fidget, squishy stress ball and mini lava lamp to help relieve anxiety and calm them.
There are also noise canceling headphones and sunglasses.
“If the child is upset by the lights and sirens, the headphones and sunglasses could help calm them down,” said Lt. Polivka.
However, perhaps the most important items are those that enable communication even if the child or person is entirely non-verbal.
There’s a dry erase board, alphabet chart and boards with pictures illustrating emotions they might be feeling and things they might need like food, water or a bathroom.
“You can ask them to point at the picture and they can show you if they’re mad, anxious sad or confused,” said Lt. Polivka.
That alone could potentially save a life or prevent an injury.
According to the organization Autism Speaks, “Under stress, behavior challenges can worsen or trigger what is commonly called a meltdown, which is an intense reaction caused by a person feeling overwhelmed. Advocates contend that training could help improve understanding and prevent situations from escalating.”
Police believe the kits will not only prevent problems during an emergency, but also establish a better bond for the future.
“So our hope for them is that by providing some of these items that in the future, perhaps, they won’t be scared of police officers and won’t be as traumatized,” said Lt. Polivka.
The Hussman Institute for Autism is offering the kits for free to any interested police department.
You can learn more here.