Northfield paramedic collecting autism sensory bags for first responders 

  • Northfield EMS Public Education Coordinator and Paramedic Erik Davidson is working to equip first responders with sensory bags to help in emergency situations involving people and patients with autism. Some of the items being included are Rubik’s Cubes, small whiteboards for drawing and non-verbal communication, “feeling wheels” to signal emotions, coloring books, noise-canceling headphones, stress putty and other calming toys. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Northfield EMS Public Education Coordinator and Paramedic Erik Davidson is working to equip first responders with sensory bags to help in emergency situations involving people and patients with autism. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 2/5/2020 9:59:19 PM

NORTHFIELD — Members of Northfield EMS will be among the first in Franklin County to equip first responders with sensory bags to help in emergency situations involving people and patients with autism.

The autism sensory bags are being assembled thanks to the efforts of Northfield EMS Public Education Coordinator and Paramedic Erik Davidson, and his wife Jo-Ann, a special education teacher in the Chicopee school district. The Southwick residents are in the early stages of creating the Start ‘Em Early Foundation, a soon-to-be 501c3 nonprofit for autism awareness.

“There has been a lot of positive feedback here in Northfield and at home in Southwick,” Davidson said.

According to Davidson, the purpose of the bags is to help calm a nervous person or patient with autism who may be overwhelmed by an emergency situation or the noise and bright lights from first responders’ vehicles. The bags can either be given to autistic patients at the scene of an emergency, or to a family member of the patient to help distract and calm them.

While they cannot accept financial donations until the nonprofit status is approved, items for the sensory bags are already being donated, Davidson said. Items include: Rubik’s Cubes, small whiteboards for drawing and non-verbal communication, “feeling wheels” to signal emotions, coloring books, noise-canceling headphones, stress putty and other calming toys.

Davidson said most people on the autism spectrum have sensory issues. For example, he said, his 11-year-old daughter, Janelle, who is on the autism spectrum, plays street hockey, but has to leave the rink when the siren blares due to her sensitivity to noise.

“I’ve done a lot of autistic calls,” Davidson said. “The hardest part for them is being in the ambulance. It’s a scary, foreign place to them.”

Inspired in part by his daughter and nephew, who is also on the autism spectrum, Davidson knew he wanted to do something to aid autistic patients. Then he saw an article featured in EMS1, a congregate website for EMS-related news stories, about a similar effort being conducted by the Clearcreek Township Fire Department in Ohio.

“I saw the article and thought, ‘Nobody around here is doing that,’” he said.

Now, Davidson has partnered with other EMS and fire departments to receive the first round of autism sensory bags, and he plans to include county police departments in the near future. The items in the sensory bags will help keep patients’ hands busy and make them feel more comfortable when being assessed by first responders.

“We need these resources to help calm them down,” he said. “An emergency scene can cause sensory overload.”

Davidson said local EMS departments quickly took interest. Currently, Northfield EMS is scheduled to receive two bags, Easthampton Fire and EMS will get three, Southwick Fire will get two, Shelburne Falls EMS will get one, the Becket Ambulance Department will receive one and the Brewster Ambulance service will receive four.

Members of the Springfield College occupational therapy program are even helping to assemble the bags, Davidson said. Thanks to the already incoming donated materials, they hope to have the bags assembled and distributed in the next couple of weeks.

“I plan on running this program all spring into the summer as kids will be getting out of school for vacation, and this is when we see more pediatric calls,” Davidson said.

Davidson was recently appointed the title of public education coordinator for Northfield EMS, and is heavily invested in public education and access to information related to public safety and first aid. He has more than 20 years’ experience as an EMT, 10 years of which he has spent as a paramedic.

“This is my passion,” Davidson said.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 264.




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

Copyright © 2020 by Newspapers of Massachusetts, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy