MUSKEGON – All Pro Med ambulances now have “sensory kits” on hand for helping kids with autism experience a more calming ride when being transported for emergency care.

In partnership with Michigan Community Service Commission (@MCSCOnline), each reusable sensory kit includes the following items:

“What Hurts” board to help nonverbal patients describe their pain to first responders

Picture Exchange Communication System (PECS)® to help patients with cognitive, physical and communication challenges better communicate with first responders

Weighted Lap Pad

Noise Canceling Ear Muffs

Sunglasses to dim the bright lights of the ambulance

The idea for the sensory kits came from Amber Horton, an emergency medical technician for Pro Med, who has an autistic son.

“Having a child with autism has given me an opportunity to view different experiences through his eyes,” said Horton. “When I considered how overwhelming an ambulance ride could be for a person with sensory processing issues, it was important for me to find a way to improve that experience. These sensory kits will give patients with autism tools to cope with the lights and sounds of an ambulance ride and lessen their anxiety.”

Beyond supplying kits for the Pro Med EMTs and Paramedics, education on how to work with kids who experience sensory issues will also be offered.

“Until now, we’ve not been able to identify resources for our medics on helping pediatric patients who need ambulance transport,” said Chad Crook, operations manager for Pro Med. “As the need becomes more prevalent, we want to educate our providers how easy it is to over-stimulate patients with autism and how to help ease the experience for both provider and patient.”

The cost for the 20 kits to outfit Pro Med ambulances was $700 and funded by a grant through the Michigan Community Service Commission to support Global Youth Service Day and the Muskegon Autism Alliance.

As more funding becomes available, Pro Med would like to add sensory activities that kids can keep including a liquid bubble timer, Emoticon balls and spinners to calm anxiety, and other items to create comfort and diversion for patients as they receive care.

Pro Med colleague families volunteered their time to color cards for patients to keep and assembled the sensory kits as part of Global Youth Service Day, which was scheduled for April 17-19. Due to COVID-19, the service time was extended to June 19. Volunteers ages 5-25 participated in assembling the kits for the paramedics.

“We had to approach Global Youth Service Day a little differently this year and we are proud to support organizations like Mercy Health that are finding creative ways to make an impact through virtual volunteering,” said Ginna Holmes, Michigan Community Service Commission executive director.

In Muskegon, there are 11,000 pediatric ER visits and 2,000 pediatric ambulance calls each year. An estimated six percent of the population has a sensory processing disorder, which means 780 kids are potentially served by this service.