TAWAS CITY – In an effort to better serve Iosco County’s population contending with autism, AuSable Valley Community Mental Health (AVCMH) is now offering public institutions, businesses, and individuals special “Carter Kits” — duffel bags stocked with items like earmuffs, fidget tools, and other items — for autistic individuals.
AVCMH Chief Executive Officer Diane Pelts, during an annual report given to the Iosco County Board of Commissioners on Sept. 7, described the kits and their purpose.
Carter Kit Sensory Bags, as explained by Pelts, were started by Saginaw Township Police Department Det/Sgt. Justin Severs who recognized that at times when EMS or police are working with or making contact with individuals autism, that something extra is sometimes needed for those individuals.
Pelts explained that Severs has a son with autism. She said he was out on a police call when he noticed that on the scene individuals with autism and other special needs, may have “sensory perception limitations” that can sometimes be read incorrectly as non cooperation by law enforcement.
“They can be seen as being ‘obstructive’ or seen as not wanting to listen to directions by officers or not wanting to do what an EMT or authority figure wants to be done,” she said. “Well it’s not for lack of want, it’s for lack of ‘they literally can’t’ (because their senses are overloaded).
She said autistic individuals can sometimes have bad reactions when their brains are overloaded with certain stimuli, such as loud sirens or flashing lights from emergency vehicles.
“In some traumatic situations they can’t react they way you or I want them to react,” she said. “Sever thought there has to be a way to help to be kinder and gentler to these kids or individuals, so these kits were born out of first responders. The initial population for group focus for the kids was law enforcement, EMS, first responders.
The kits contain a weighted blanket, noise canceling headphones, dark sunglasses to block flashing lights, and a variety of “fidget tools” to keep individual occupied. There are also non-verbal cue cards where individuals can simply point at words or phrases if they cannot get them out.
Pelts said that the kits are getting rolled out, for free, through the state’s 21 community mental health agencies. They’re being used nationwide as well, she said, in nearly 30 states.
“We will supply these free of charge to anyone that can benefit from them,” she said. “Not only do we want to work with law enforcement, but we are looking at schools, public and private buildings/organizations, foster care, intermediate school districts — wherever someone has an need for this, we want you to know we are here to help you and here to give this to you.”
Pelts said there is a training element that goes along with the sensory bags, including looking for the signs and symptoms that someone might be distressed and could benefit from items in the bag.
“The region purchased 2,000 of these kits; we are going to utilize these quickly, this is a really good tool,” she said. “Please contact me if you are interested or if you need more of these.”
During discussion Commissioner Terry Dutcher asked if the kits would be available to anyone free of charge. Pelts said that individuals interested in the kits can contact her by emailing her at email@example.com or by calling their office at 989-362-8638.
“People can contact me with more information,” she said. “We do have one person in the agency that is the autism agent, we can work through this, but we are currently working on training with the schools, ISD, and DHS. I have the EMS going in Ogemaw County right now.”