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West Michigan EMT creates ambulance 'Sensory Kits' for kids with Autism

Amber Horton is a Pro Med EMT and has a son with Autism
Posted at 4:36 PM, Jul 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-07-07 16:36:25-04

MUSKEGON, Mich — An ambulance service in Muskegon is adding some extra tools to help patients with Autism and a West Michigan mom and EMT is behind the effort.

Amber Horton is not only an EMT for Mercy Health Pro Med Ambulance, but she also has a son with autism.

Horton said that the bright lights, sounds, and just overall scary experience of riding in an ambulance can make it really stressful and hard for Autistic patients to communicate so, she came up with some special kits to help them cope.

“It’s pretty much torture for an Autistic kid,” Horton said.

She also knows first-hand what it’s like to have to call 911 to help when someone with Autism has an accident.

She said, “My son when he was about two, decided to take a swan dive down the laundry chute, so I got to be the parent on that one and it’s scary.”

Horton has been an EMT for 13 years but tells FOX 17 she was unprepared to handle an Autistic patient’s needs, until she had her son.

“We don’t have the training that we need to properly deal with them,” she said.

So, she put together a big bag of goodies that now stay in 17 Mercy Health Pro Med ambulances in Muskegon.

The Sensory Kits include, noise cancelling headphones, fidget toys, textured balls, sunglasses to block the bright lights, a weighted lap pad, a “What Hurts” board to help nonverbal patients describe pain, and a Picture Exchange Communications System to help patients with cognitive or physical challenges communicate with photo cards.

Most of the items can help soothe patients with Austism, but Horton said one of the other most important parts is letting patients with Autism know exactly what is going to happen in the ambulance and hospital with photo cards.

Horton added that the need is greater than you’d think; with about 2,000 pediatric ambulance calls in Muskegon each year, Mercy Health estimates that they could potentially serve about 780 kids in the area with a sensory processing disorder.

Horton said, “It’s a huge relief for us as parents to know that they’ll be able to treat our kids properly.”

Though they haven’t have the chance to put the kits to use just yet, Horton is confident, they’ll make the difference between kids getting treatment or going without.

“It’s long overdue. I’ve been speaking to other parents and they are like ‘This is fantastic.’”

The kits are thanks to a partnership with the Michigan Community Service Commission and the Muskegon Autism Alliance.

Horton said that the next step is training. She plans to work with local Fire Departments and Mercy Health to make sure medical staff at every stage knows how to better approach patients with Autism.