Organization donates toys for responders to give to patients with autism

Bursting Bubbles developed a toy that wouldn't take up much space in emergency vehicles while allowing responders to connect with those with autism


By Samantha McDaniel-Ogletree
Jacksonville Journal-Courier

PIKE COUNTY, Ill. — A Pike County-based not-for-profit has designed toys for first responders to give to kids with autism during emergency situations.

Bursting Bubbles, an organization that helps develop mental health programs and provide mental health education, has donated more than 100 fidget toys to Pittsfield and Pike County emergency responders.

The organization worked with Trainers Warehouse of Natick, Massachusetts, to develop a small toy that wouldn't take up much space in emergency vehicles while acting as a way for first responders to connect with those with autism, said Dianna Castleberry, executive director of Bursting Bubbles.

"We have a gentleman on our board, Taylor Sweeting, who has autism," Castleberry said. "He goes to different places and does different programs. He helped develop this toy that will help in emergency situations."

The toys have movable parts and make a sound that will provide a sensory distraction that in turn will allow first responders to more easily move a child out of a dangerous situation, Castleberry said.

First responders approached Bursting Bubbles to find ways to approach children with autism during emergency situations.

"Taylor said if they had something to earn the child's trust, that will take their focus off of what is going on around them, that is relatively small, it would help in those situations," Castleberry said.

The toys help the children to focus on something calming—something other than the chaos created by the noise, the lights and other distractions common in emergency situations, Castleberry said.

Pike County Sheriff Paul Petty said they were happy to get the toys, which he hopes will help those dealing with children during stressful situations.

"Often times, the situations where children are interacting with emergency personnel can be traumatic, or it's following a traumatic situation," Petty said. "Having the right tools in our bag of stuff, it's important. We can bring some sense of normalcy to the children. That plays an enormous role and allows us to continue to do the work we need to do."

Petty said he has learned that, for some children, the lights and noise of a responding emergency vehicle can be scary, in addition to the frightening circumstances of the situation to which they are responding.

"If these can help a child feel safe or more comfortable, it'll help us remove them from the situation," Petty said.

Castleberry said Bursting Bubbles has worked with emergency responders on mental health education and on helping to connect people with services.

The group also is active with programs in schools, support groups and developing recovery plans, among other projects.

"We are hoping other agencies will ask for the toys and it'll spread to other counties," Castleberry said. "We want them to help as many children as they can."

Copyright 2018 Jacksonville Journal-Courier

McClatchy-Tribune News Service
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