Law enforcement and first responders often have challenges handling people who are going through a mental health crisis. Those who have disabilities or are on the autism spectrum have specific needs when they are going through trauma or agitation. Many first responders do not have the tools necessary to provide for this.
Bill Cassel is looking to fill that void with Noah’s Autism Rescue Kits. He had an idea to create a quick solution to help calm down people on the autism spectrum who are experiencing a breakdown that has been triggered by a traumatic event such as a car accident or a fire. What started as a small startup funded by the Optimist Club of Wheat Ridge quickly expanded.
Cassel borrowed the idea from a Facebook video he watched of volunteer firefighters in New England who were using kits to help people on the autism spectrum in that part of the country. Cassel comes from a family of volunteer firefighters who work in the Wheat Ridge and Arvada area and decided since nobody else was doing it around Colorado, he would give it a try.
“We started working small, and to help us out, we enlisted a local boy scout troop to help us put the kits together, and we found out that one of the boy scouts named Noah, that was building the kits, was on the spectrum, so it all just came together,” Cassel said.
Each Autism Rescue Kit comes equipped with noise blocking headphones, a snuggle blanket, various toys to use for distractions, dark sunglasses, a dry erase board for communication, and Smart 911 registration information. The kits have been designed specifically to help account for different situations that may trigger agitation.
“We sat down with first responders and tried to make it work because firefighters and EMTs have limited space on their vehicles, as well as police with all the tactical gear they carry,” Cassel said. “From there, the word got out to special needs teachers in elementary and middle schools, and they started requesting the kits.”
The kits are not just given to first responders and to teachers in schools who have students on the spectrum. Parents can also get their hands on the rescue kits. The kits can be particularly helpful for families that are dealing with a first-time diagnosis of autism in their child and need a tool the child can use when things get overwhelming.
Cassel spoke about how the kit can have beneficial results for just about anyone who is in a traumatic situation or emergency such as a car accident. The kits also have been used to help those who have been victims of violent crime.
“We had a great testimonial from a victim advocate in Douglas County, who had a young lady who was the victim of a violent attack, and she started shutting down,” Cassel said. “They gave her the kit, and she started playing just with the squeeze ball, and she was able to answer the questions.”
The Autism Rescue Kits also can be a great help during times of natural disaster. The Marshall Fire displaced so many families in Boulder County, including those that have children on the autism spectrum. While losing your home is incredibly distressing for anyone, such a sudden disruptive change is challenging for those on the spectrum.
“With the Marshall Fire in Boulder County, there were approximately 75 autistic kids that lost their homes, and they were stuck in hotels and places totally different to them, with new sounds and new smells,” Cassel said. “They didn’t have their own place, so we are working with ARC Services to develop this kit as a to go bag for natural disasters.”
Another essential part of the Autism Rescue Kits is the Smart 911 system. Home phones are registered so if somebody dials 911, it will pop up on the screen that someone at the home is on the spectrum or has some type of neurological problem. Cassel has worked in conjunction with West Metro Fire and Rescue to give out flyers to let families know about this system. A registration card for the Smart 911 comes with every rescue kit.
“You can also register your cell phone so if you’re away from the house, and 911 is called you get a phone call or a text message saying that 911 has been called from your house phone,” Cassel said.
All of this would not be possible without the Optimist Club of Wheat Ridge. The club’s relationship with the community and youth has made it possible for the kits to be free because they are covered through donations. A couple of club members are in the Wheat Ridge Police Department, and some have contacts in the Arvada Fire Department, making the distribution of the kits to first responders easier. If you are interested in more information about the kit email firstname.lastname@example.org.
“All the feedback to the kits has been positive; I see posts on the Facebook page of Denver Autism Parents talking about getting the kit through the schools and how great they have been,” Cassel said.
As the kits continue to grow in popularity, Cassel hopes that it will also spread more awareness about kids with autism and how they are just like everyone else; they just see the world differently.
“Most of these kids or young adults have superpowers; there is something they are really, really good at,” Cassel said. “It’s just amazing to try to focus on that and the positive side of things.”