Northeast Ohio first responders add ‘sensory bags’ to vehicles for people with autism

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MENTOR, Ohio (WJW) – Tommy Newman, 9, of Mentor loves playing with trains and has an obsession with firefighters.

Tommy also has autism and is non-verbal, often using a speech device to talk.

Mom, Jenna Newman says, “He was diagnosed, I believe around 2 and a half, but we kind of suspected way before then.”

WJW photo

In an effort to help kids just like him, Jenna has come up with the idea to create “sensory bags,” which contain items to assist first responders who may come face-to-face with children with developmental needs during emergency calls.

“In the back of my head, it’s always been what if I was in a car accident, and I was unconscious and someone needed to help him? They would basically have to hold his hand,” Jenna said. “Same if it was a house fire.”

The bags are filled with items like headphones, sunglasses and fidget toys, which help kids with sensory issues and communication. On a snowy Tuesday afternoon, we followed Newman as she dropped off bags at the Mentor Fire Department.

“It definitely shows the community that we care, and thank you Jenna for getting this for us,” Fireman Jerry Craddock said.

Through her organization called Heroes Helping Those With Special Needs, Newman also focuses on teaching safety to children with special needs.

She recently received her first business sponsor, helping donate 20 bags locally, even nationwide. And plans to establish a non-profit to help keep up with demand are already in the works.

“I love when people let me know it actually worked or we attempted it, it didn’t work but, I’m glad we had the chance to use it,” she said.

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