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Comforting kids in need

Kits with a variety of items intended to provide a calming effect for children with special needs during emergency calls now come standard on Jackson County Fire District No. 3 emergency response vehicles.

Fire District 3 community care paramedic Michelle Frazier, who has two special-needs children, spearheaded the new initiative. Another ambulance company out of Pennsylvania that started a similar program inspired Frazier to get going on her own.

“I thought, ‘This sounds amazing. I wish we could be doing something like that,’” Frazier said. “I thought it would be a really good thing for our crews to have when they respond to special-needs littles.”

These special needs include autism, apraxia and sensory processing disorders, Frazier said.

Frazier combined research and her personal experience with what has worked for her own 5- and 3-year-old sons.

The kits include noise canceling headphones, sunglasses, a fidget spinner, an object called a “stretchy string,” a squishy ball, a silicone food-grade necklace that can be chewed on, a plastic object that displays colorful bubbles called a “liquid motion bubbler,” a small Frisbee and some stickers. All items are intended to bring down anxiety levels. This can be of key importance in the midst of so much commotion.

“It kind of calms their mind and puts them at a calmer state,” Frazier said.

All objects come in bright green bags with straps, able to be worn as backpacks. So far, Frazier has put 20 kits together, anticipating she will make more once their supplies dwindle down to about five or so. Still a new program, not many bags have been given out yet, but department firefighters said the ones they have distributed have been difference makers.

Captain Will Clelland pointed to a recent call where a child with special needs had accidentally locked himself in a room. Firefighters responded and had to take the lock apart. They left a kit, which they later learned was of particular help during the child’s doctor appointments and other stressful situations.

“We are constantly looking for ways to connect with people that need our help,” Clelland said, adding that there can be barriers to forging that connection, such as language and age differences. “If we have the ability to build or design a system that lets us break down those barriers, we’re all in.”

Frazier hopes to keep forging ahead with the program, potentially including additional offerings in the kits down the road. One addition under consideration is educational materials, written in story form, designed to explain to the child what is currently happening and what’s coming next. Called “social stories,” they would be intended to provide structure for the child.

“If anything is out of their norm, it makes them very anxious, and it’s very hard doing anything new,” Frazier said. “It just kind of walks you through the next steps, but they would have pictures to go along with it.”

Frazier has reached out to the Autisum Society of Oregon for help with providing the social stories.

Reach Mail Tribune web editor Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or rpfeil@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ryanpfeil.

Jamie Lusch / Mail TribuneHenry Frazier, 3, plays Thursday with a sensory kit at the Jackson County Fire District No. 3 office.