How a local school is making sure first responders and children with autism are prepared for emergencies

Posted at 8:41 AM, Mar 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-27 18:41:03-04

MENTOR, Ohio — What looks like it could be any other day for young children at Mentor CARES is actually a vitally important step making sure these students are ready for an emergency.

"Surprises are not a good thing for students with autism," said Mentor CARES Director Christy LaPaglia.

Rollin sits on the floor with one student while she sees how equipment works to help people breath.

LaPaglia's students are likely to run or fight back when they're in an emergency and first responders show up to help them.

"They are trying to provide the best quality care for our student quickly, but sometimes, quick isn't the best option for our students," said LaPaglia.

Students meet paramedics with the hope of making an emergency less scary for children with disabilities who don't handle new circumstances well.

That's why Mentor CARES hosted local firefighters and paramedics to meet some of the students and show them the equipment they work with every day.

The hope is it will make them more calm if they're ever in an emergency.

Talking to students with disabilities helps first responders better understand what might make students with autism uncomfortable in an emergency.

"I've gone on a few calls where there's been people with autism or disabilities and I've seen my co-workers, or police officers, or hospital staff and you could tell they weren't the most comfortable because it's not something they deal with everyday," said Lake Health Paramedic Rolling Pachinger.

Rollin shows students equipment first responders carry to emergency calls.

But that's not the case for Pachinger, who has two sisters with autism.

"My sisters used to have bad meltdowns to where they'd start crying and screaming in public and people didn't understand why," said Pachinger.

One student learns about CPR on a manikin.

So Rollin, along with Mentor CARES, put together a training program, at first, just for paramedics and emergency room nurses.

"With the barriers to care for someone with a disability, that obviously plays into how we treat our patient," said Pachinger.

Another student tries on a glove paramedics wear on calls.

When other hospital staff and police departments heard about it, they wanted in, too.

Wednesday, first responders came to Mentor CARES for the first set of classes to learn about how people with autism might react in an emergency.

Rollin shows one student what a neck brace feels like.

"We want to make sure that our guys are comfortable and our patients are comfortable," said Pachinger.